The war doesn’t end in the jungle

This time, we will look at something a lot more tangible in the somatic sense. Breathe. We all do that. Consciously or not. With mindfulness – which is a tricky word as it may imply that the mind does the job – or with soulfulness: without the hidden curriculum of any dogma. The ability of the mind to quiet itself is not just something that happens overnight; although lots of holy humans and spiritually awakened people may report that it CAN happen overnight. The truth is, I do not know how that feels. I only know how it feels to feel joy for being able to breathe and how to stop right there before the movie continues; which would mean flying off into the future or into the past while grasping parts of my so-called reality and lining them up as factual evidence of a particular narrative.

At the same time, I also have become aware of certain mechanisms (or conditioning if you like) in my system, running their course like they are on autopilot. These are reactions to different stimuli, and I do not mean instinctual responses like jumping if we touch something hot or we step on something sharp (cursing sometimes seems to be as much of a reflex as bouncing around when you step on a Lego piece, I hope you agree :)). What I mean is that particular programs are running in our bodies, which may or may not be learned or inherited reactions. The trending beliefs around these mechanisms largely depend on which scientist wins in the publication games. How many of are responses are instinctual and how many of them are learned? We have had an arsenal of answers throughout history. Here and now, I wish to simplify it by narrowing it down to the usefulness of the responses, trusting that usefulness is a good measurement system in our day-to-day life.

If we smell something we often automatically start to inhale more deeply when the scent is pleasant – to stick with the whole breathing topic in the example, stylishly. However, the same scent can be repulsive and cause a gagging response in a different person, if something negative is associated with it. These are two completely different responses (given to the same input) and they both involve a whole series of mini-responses physically, mentally and emotionally. A whole program. This got me thinking – or I would rather say lately, it got me sitting still with it. It seems like our behavior consists of many of such programs running through our systems. The obvious next question could be: Where do they come from? There is this whole childhood topic, which gives a lot of intelligent explanations and I get those, both the official psychoanalytical approaches and the soul retrieval type of inner child work methods. Awesome. One of my teachers says that the evolution in the realm of psychology will change the question of “what’s wrong with you” into “what happened to you”. That is awesome, too. The past also stretches back into infinity now; with all the available past life explanations and karma hype, we can deal with one lifetime or several lifetimes at the same time. I invite you to pick whatever you like from the huge buffet of options and assemble your own dish according to your personal preferences. Usefulness, remember? 🙂

The point here is more about the simple awareness around these programs running in the background of our daily functioning. Once we become aware of such programming, can we judge it as malware or a benevolent software and if we do, what is that judgment based on? Is another covert background program kicking in when we judge something as “good” or “bad”? What if none of those are available for a minute? What if we become aware that our bodily reactions are often based on programming – and the polarizing judgment of them is not helpful at all in terms of observation and understanding? If we can just look at the programming from an “AND consciousness” point of view (it can be good AND bad therefore there is no polarity) and simply observe it for what it is, then the possibility opens up to see if we it is still relevant now, today, in this moment. What if a bunch of those programs are simply outdated, regardless of how useful they seemed to be when they were created? Neither good nor bad, they are just less relevant in the now.

From time to time, news spread across the media about people who emerge from the jungle and surrender, often decades after the war has ended. One story states that two soldiers were found 60 years after the II. World War ended, and they have been living in the reality of the war for more than six decades, up to 2005. Apparently, they did not get the memo about the war being over with… If we have programs running in our systems that did not get the memo of the changes in our world, is it possible that they are still operating in the old war-zone, even if the reality has completely shifted ever since they started functioning?

A while ago I did a consultation taken from the somatic therapy practice when humans can take on the role of someone’s body parts and speak in their names. (If you are not familiar with such constellations, think of it as a theater role play exercise.) The person I assisted had an issue of choking on food and throwing it up quite uncontrollably and seemingly randomly; there was no relation found to the type of food, time of the day, or other circumstances. I took on the role of his esophagus which means I imagined how it must feel to be an esophagus in this setting. I had a strong wave of defense reaction washing over me, and I literally felt like I was “at war”. As the first line of defense when it comes to unwanted input from the outer world, the esophagus in this case took on the role of the “protector of the body” and pushed back anything that was seemingly hostile. This may be a primary reaction when someone had to experience force feeding in their childhood or other things forced upon them in abusive situations – at the same time it is not really a useful reaction anymore for a grown man who has the control over his own food intake. The program of the somatic reaction was running past due, like a soldier still being at war in the jungle, decades after the actual war (abusive situation) ended. The simple awareness of this functioning and the understanding of its presence have already bought about positive changes regarding the choking issue.

How many of our immediate (or delayed) responses are based on the functioning of a jungle setting, where changes of circumstances may not be noticeable and the possibilities for awareness are limited? And how does this relate to breathing and unconditional presence? 🙂 I have found two ways so far, and I invite you to come up with more… One is, that our responsiveness can be easily approachable through our breathing. How do you breathe when you have a reaction in a situation or circumstance? Do you hyperventilate? Do you hold your breath? Does your breathing get shallower, deeper, faster, or slower? Simply observing the bodily reactions already brings about a new level of awareness. Once the awareness is there, then we can breathe through the other aspects of our reaction attentively, taking a few breaths consciously before we complete the program on autopilot. This may feel weird, hard, or impossible at first, but it is just like any other healing practice – more of it makes it more accessible. We can always return to the old programming, should it prove to be useful and the adventure of trying new pathways is not a fun one. At the same time, it may be a thrilling possibility to try an un-walked path and see if it takes us out of the jungle.

“…you are being breathed”

Another beautiful teacher of mine keeps coming up with the following statement: “[You realize that] you are not breathing, you are being breathed.” All right, this is again, one of those hard candy ideas that I push around with my tongue for several months, or even years, digesting it slowly, but not ever fully. If you are being breathed, then it means that the air itself has the consciousness to execute the very action? Or is she talking about the reflexes that are taking care of the act on autopilot so you do not even have to consciously participate? Or…is there some benevolent soul or consciousness breathing through me? Am I missing something? Can all three (and more) be true at the same time?

Asking these questions do not have the hidden intention to actually answer them immediately right here, I am not using this as a technique to awaken an investigative thirst in the reader and then quench it immediately with tasty alternatives. Rather the purpose of this contemplative questioning is to think with you, feel into it with you, together. Obviously I have more to say about this topic, but it is more like an exploration with curiosity and innocence. The episode that started this blog was an experience where I was suffocating in agony, with my body tangled up around the simple need to breathe. This brought me new waves of feelings and thoughts around being ready to travel through novel lands and try out fresh viewpoints. If we are being breathed that means that we are connected. This vista brings along a consensus between the three questions of whether the air has its own consciousness, our own subconscious (pro-life) functioning is in action, and/or does a higher power’s presence shows emerge. SOMETHING makes it happen. This allows a lot of ideas and intuitive feelings to unfold around spiritual interconnectedness, whether it is in the realms of intercellular communication, quantum physics or faith.

If there is a magical connection that creates the phenomena of being breathed, then the details of background explanation largely depends on one’s knowledge base and belief system. In this case, “magic” means the unexplained, the moldable reality of taking on any explanation that suits our upbringing, intuition, or education. What if we drop this “what is behind all this” question altogether for a minute and refocus the attention? If we are connected on this level to something or someone (let it be the works of the universe, cellular consciousness, ancestral lineage, angels or any sort of deities or superpowers) it means connection. It means we are not alone. We are taken care of. How does that feel? Just sit with me in this feeling sensation for a moment. If we are being breathed, we are supported. We are connected beyond our current understanding – that cannot bring along unquestionable evidence so far – in any given paradigm. Just relax into that for a second or two. Lean into it, lay on top of it and let it carry you. This is the magic. This can be the feeling beyond isolation and loneliness.

This is the dimension where all humans, researchers, holy men (and women), factory workers and even prisoners can tap into, fall into, dive into in moments of bliss. The brain scientist having a stroke and understanding the amazing interconnectedness in that experience. The physicist observing the light being both a particle and a wave, which is officially not possible according to the knowledge of the given society. The addict waking up into a different reality where addiction seems to be obsolete and not necessary as the need it served is not there anymore. The cancer patient experiencing the disappearance of the tumor when fully accepting that the end is near. The atheist going through a death experience and coming back with the sole purpose to spread the consciousness of the universe or God. The monk imprisoned and tortured, while he feels only compassion towards the perpetrators and frees himself from the prison of his own mind. The writer who keeps writing despite of being haunted for blasphemy only for the fact that she does not belong to the other gender which has the exclusive privilege to knowledge in that culture. There is something bigger than us happening, this is the basic revelation in any of these and other experiences. It does not even have to come from any form of suffering, although the hardships are definitely the best accelerators of growth – but does it have to be painful? “To suffer is nothing else but to resist what is happening”; many of those would say who were touched by this clarity. Suffering comes when something is happening that we believe shouldn’t be happening.  Surrendering is much trickier than suffering. Suffering is simply easier to do, that is the road most traveled, and often the only road we know of.

Surrendering has a mixed reputation nowadays. On one hand, just like forgiveness and “letting go”, it is like a spiritual virtue, largely misunderstood and abused, used in the same ancient power games against each other like other tools of faith. “You should surrender! All this is happening to you because you do not accept what is!” “Just let it go! If you surrender to it, you can end your pain!” How the hell do I do that? Hello? Oh, you have no answers because “I should find the answer within myself”. So all I get is another judgment from another inflated ego, high on spiritual smoke, feeling superior and talking down at me with a heavenly smile spreading “love and light” around? That is just great. Now I can just go and sit alone in the shame of feeling unable to surrender and feeling bad about feeling bad about myself on top of that. That is like so not conscious of me, right? From another viewpoint, surrendering equals weakness. The defeated surrender in war, the weak to the strong, the powerless to the powerful, the underdog to the alpha. Our deeply ingrained archetypal understanding of surrendering is way too loaded for an easy stroll of a free trial run.

Yes, that was a sidetrack. Sort of, but not really if we curl back to the exploration of being breathed and agree that this notion can only be grasped with some sort of surrendering in play. Chasing intellectual explanations and projecting the screens of different levels of understanding onto the whole connection experience in breathing is very tempting to do. So I breathe, in and out. And I just explore in stillness, that the feeling sensations of being breathed are actually quite joyful and peaceful. Is that good enough for now? I guess so. Breathe with me…and let’s see.

How Do You Breathe…?

This question was not born in me during a meditation, a yoga practice or a breath work exercise. It came to me in the moment of gasping for air, in the moment of trying to breathe and it did not happen. I don’t really know how many of you have experienced this already on different levels, probably everyone  – it might have been only in moments of shock, in moments of stress, in moments of waiting for an answer, or in moments of expecting some other meaningful pieces of reality to come that have a seemingly significant impact on our lives.

We hold our breaths quite often, without realizing it. As involuntarily as this may be, it passes relatively fast and probably without a conscious note taken of it. But what if it stretches out and it remains with you for minutes, or longer? I had no idea what the pain of suffocating felt like before. It appears as a whole-body experience of slowly engulfing agony, not only feeling the pressure in my lungs, but as the oxygen levels go lower in my system, the struggle rises on a cellular level, like every bit of my body is fighting for survival. Some may call this a panic attack, and whatever definition helps us to bring more understanding and comfort attached to this state of being is completely fine with me. However, in those very moments when the paralyzing pain washes over me, labels matter very little. Meanings and understandings fade away and there is a singular need that my entire existence is focusing on: breathe!

Coming back from this state has many unfolding consequences. There are stages of euphoria, felt on all the different levels, from photons upwards to physically, emotionally and mentally. There are different kinds of fear arising about it happening again, about powerlessness, about the complete loss of control, about dying, about not getting any help at all. Mostly about my own physical form failing me at the seemingly simplest task it has. Like, how the hell does my body not know how to breathe?? Shame and self-blame can join in at some point, with the lack of understanding of what really happened so there is an openness and vulnerability to other people’s opinions, which can be often harsh and condescending. Somehow it seems that it is morally and medically justified to have a physical condition that prohibits normal breathing, but if it is a mental or emotional condition (hence there is no apparent physiological reason), then you are possibly accused of being a cuckoo, an oddball, mentally unstable, or you are just making it all up. The best advice I usually receive is to go on mood medication, or “stop being so stressful”. Right. How do I do that? I mean it. “Just relax, no stress.” How? Happy pills? Therapy? What kind? Relaxation? Yoga? Running? Homeopathy? Aromatherapy? Meditation? Retreats? Spa sessions? Are the answers that are popular and can help others my answers too? There is a gigantic industry built entirely around stress relief. It is not that we do not have choices, right? So I have tried them all. Useful? Absolutely. During those minutes or hours, everything feels better, even if it hurts a bit sometimes. And then, the next Tuesday comes and I am at work, or on the road, or cleaning the bathroom and the fear slaps me again, bringing disappointment and often self-criticism because I could not maintain the attained balance in the everyday.

The comeback from the last episode has brought something else in its goodie box. Not only did the usual euphoric/fearful stages take turns, but a recognition was born amongst them. The affair of scare and joy, it seems, has given birth to a new state of being, a lovechild which was….no, not gratitude. Sorry. I know that would be the most fitting answer here, however. It was more of an ability to simply exist. When breathing becomes a delicacy instead of a taken-for-granted natural state, it puts things into an entirely new paradigm. How is it a gift? How is it an opportunity? I asked myself these questions several times before, whenever the pudding hit the fan – and sometimes it is easier to gain the perspective of the opportunity during a messy situation than other times. Sometimes it is not really possible. Now, the questions did not emerge. Not then, and not later, because there was no need for the seeking anymore. For days, my entire existence was orbiting around the simple fact: I can breathe! The rest was somehow secondary; where, why, what, who, when. As long as the air entered and left my system peacefully, things were fine. More than fine. All else has become a bonus.  

“Who are you, when you do absolutely nothing?” One of our amazing teachers asked the question during a retreat, and the real depth of this concept could not sink in – back then… What do you mean? How do I define myself when I am sitting still? If I quit my job? If not talking about what I do, then what do I say about myself in social gatherings? Now the whole notion of “doing nothing” entered a new realm as I realized that even breathing is doing something. Involuntary, yes, but nevertheless doing. So who am I when I do not even breathe? This stopped me on my tracks of simply being in the self-created luxurious spa setting of breathing peacefully. So, instead of turning to the usual tools of avoidance, distraction and push-away, I actually chose to dive in. I decided to revisit the state of not breathing consciously and alone. Who am I when I am not breathing? What remains when all (or most of) the active existence falls away? Who is still there? This journey is not about finding relief, comfort or happiness. It is not about finding justification of present functioning based on past experiences, it is not about how to tackle fears or how to forge success out of suffering. It is mostly the journey of quiet observation in relative stillness. Whoever is still there in the moments of doing nothing is not the one who struggles with the pain, who fights the agony, who gasps for any amount of air that can squeeze through the failure of breathing. But who is it then?