Second Breath, Breath of Life: Craniosacral Therapy Meets Zen

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“I can say that as the Breath of Life emerges from a depth of Stillness, one experiences heart-opening radiance and compassion, a sense of great spaciousness and peace, a depth of love and interconnection, and a perception of a Presence that seems to enfold, uphold and maintain life.”  Franklyn Sills

In this post, I’d like to talk a bit about some of my current healing work.  I will compare the Craniosacral notion of The Breath of Life with what I have called The Second Breath, which I have talked about before in this blog.  It is something I discovered doing zazen (Zen meditation) in my twenties.

First, to talk a bit about Craniosacral therapy.  When we touch bodies in a gentle, non-invasive way, the whole system responds and begins to sort itself out.  Working with the autonomic nervous system, the rhythms of the body, including cerebrospinal fluid, heartbeat, vagus nerve, energy fields of the body, etc, we allow the intelligence of the whole system to bring itself back into natural harmony.

There are a couple of different types of Craniosacral Therapy.  Some are more mechanical (dealing with subtly moving the bones in the skull) and others more purely energetic.

When I do my Structural Integration sessions, I use a variety of types of touch, whether that be a strong elbow or a very light listening touch, to address what will help free and integrate the body/mind system. Whether people come in with sciatica, or migraines, postural issues, digestive trouble, trouble sleeping, lower back pain, etc, I do what is needed. But with this post, I am describing some of the underlying energetic forces in my craniosacral sessions, informed by doing internal healing work on the cushion for much of my twenties.  These forces are always present in all of my work, but the cranial work is a unique way of interacting with these forces.

I discovered in my twenties that if I could become what is happening right now,  if I could merge with it, my body and mind would heal and become harmonious. That all sounds really nice and dreamy, but it was a long tough road to get there. My case was like many before me.  Often, people only truly discover this great life energy by becoming desperate to find it.  Nothing has worked. They’ve used all of their tricks.  They’ve dug into all of their techniques, all of their cultivating of skill.  And in a moment of honest desperation, they discover something happening which they never could have predicted.  Something which is not dependent on their skill or perfect state of mind, or their holy acts in life. It was there from the start, inherent and unborn.

I discovered this state of mind in the monastery after getting really sick.  I had to stop all of my training and lay in a room all day in the dark.  I nearly lost my eyesight from  sickness.  I could not do my tanden training.  I could not go to sanzen with the Roshi or sit in the zendo with everyone else.  I could not do the normal hard physical work of the monastery, which I really loved.  It was a desperate time for me.  In my training life, I had been so eager, so earnest.  But all of my good intentions had to be let go of.

Laying there in the dark, sad, hopeless, frustrated, in a moment of real honesty, my internal world somehow became permeable. It was as if my body flipped inside out, and I began to feel reality as a guiding palpable entity. Something to begin to move through me, like an immense energetic breath.  I later called it the second breath.  I became full of light, all of my worries disappeared.  I saw that in the most basic way, the universe was on my side.  This was not some fancy technique I had learned or a philosophy I had understood.  It was not the fruition of a long fast or because of a mantra, or because of all of my Qigong.  It was not positive thinking. But in that moment I saw the power of sincerity.

After that, my sickness went away, and my training completely changed.  I walked out of that room transformed. I became much more relaxed.  My way of being changed to receiving life.  My faith in everything shifted.

 My good friend Sogaku and I

My good friend Sogaku and I

So, I after sitting still for so many hours, and then getting sick, I discovered this second breath on my own, in that dark room, 16 years ago.  Like a great secret, truly knowing it became a huge part of my life.  To allow it to guide me, to become a vessel for it.  Like a great barometer, it is there when I am open, sincere, humble, honest.  If I am too caught up in things, not being present, it is not the forefront of my existence.

I searched for many years for a way to share this second breath with society.  At first I got ordained as a Zen monk.  Wearing a monk’s robe was a very clear vehicle for communicating to the world that there was something deeper, a great freedom available in life.  Later, going into healing work, it took me years to have the courage to share my internal world with clients.  Mostly I would attempt to covertly assist the client in being present as I was doing other techniques for healing.  In the last couple of years have I been doing more and more sessions using this deeper level of listening as the medium for healing.

I am not alone in this type of healing. I just discovered it in another context. In Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy there is a notion of the breath of life.  This is a sort of divine presence that radiates through client and practitioner.  Franklyn Sills describes it like this:

“Over time, I have come to understand that the Breath of Life is a divine presence only appreciated in a state of stillness and unknowing. It appears everywhere all at once and is sensed as a Presence that is numinous, non-linear and radiant. It arises out of a profound Stillness that lies at the heart of all form and is the fulcrum from which all form arises.”

Likewise, in zazen, we connect with this great life energy, and it heals us, it guides us as we plug into the source of everything. Our stuck places dissolve with time. Each period of sitting is different, and we can’t know how it will go beforehand.  It must be new, as the process of zazen is letting go of any idea, letting go of the separation, the division between self and other.

With my clients these days, through hands on work, sharing this second breath with them is the same as working with the breath of life. There are techniques involved, of course, but this is the foundation.  If we can become more present in our own skins, in a very basic, very real way, we can begin to get a sense of being guided internally how to heal. But most of the time it is locked up in areas of our body that we are not ready to look at.  So it takes help from someone like me who is familiar with this fluidity.  What is locked up might show up as sciatica or bad posture or knee pain or headaches or a sense of meaninglessness. But this is what my craniosacral sessions are like these days, with client and practitioner, like two flashlights shining in the dark, something hidden begins to move.  The practitioner can act as a tuning fork, and the client begins to find harmony.

We don’t have to be spiritual or religious to do this.  None of this energetic stuff belongs to any philosophy or healing modality.  It’s our birthright. Just to live this life of deep sensory investigating.  There is always something to do, always something to connect with.  At all times, finding this second breath, processing this great life energy.  In a simple way, just by being still and sincerely looking at what is happening right now, we can open up to something beautiful.

You can do it!  Good luck!  Comments welcome!  Thanks for reading!