The Second Breath

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Originally Posted by corey ichigen hess on May 19, 2015

 

After my last post, people have asked me to describe more deeply about my process.  People want a how to, but I think it is better to inspire people to find their own process.  Well, here goes…

Let me first note that I am not writing about Buddhist Experiences or even enlightenment experiences.  These are very important and very real but this blog is not the place to discuss these.  The last thing people need is a mental idea of enlightenment to go chase after.  In this blog, I am referring to everyday, normal states of mind available to everyone all the time.

All my life I had always hoped to be able to get closer to reality.  To really sink my teeth into it. Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated with moving through space, existing in space, and how or what that was.  How is it that we walk around?  What is it to be in a body?  What is this body?  I have always been fascinated by bodies, fascinated by what is possible in these bodies.

In sports as a kid, I began to get a sense of what could be possible.  I had many states of mind that could be referred to as the zone.  There were times in my athletics when my awareness shifted, when things slowed down.  I would say that athletics definitely showed me that miraculous things are possible.  I remember playing sandlot football one time and feeling a great power as I was running, feeling as if I could take the moment and move around that moment while everyone else did not have this freedom.  They were frozen but I could move in a different time frame. So I got a taste of what it is to be in the flow of nature, in the flow of reality.  I saw that reality is permeable, it has texture, it can be influenced.  I saw that my body was the gateway for me to explore this fabric.  However, in sports, although naturally gifted in many ways, I did not really have a killer instinct.  I was much more of an artist out there than a competitor!  I was fascinated, and I was more interested in exploring than in scoring.

I also saw that in my normal life I was not in harmony with this flow of reality.  I felt as if this tangible moment around me was too foreign most of the time, too elusive.  I felt like I was riding a bike in between gears all of the time.  I felt off in a very visceral way. In the monastery I was finally given a chance to explore how to sync up with this fabric of reality, to make friends with it, to find its waves and ripples, to learn to find it’s sweet spot.  This was an ugly process for me, non linear, chaotic. I would say that I was a little crazy for a few years in the middle of this process.  It is like climbing into the mesh of reality.  In this process, my body went through many strange changes, lots of turmoil, little sleep, breathing problems, rising ki, volatile emotions, general nausea, lots of pain.  Imagine climbing into a web of energy and being halfway stuck, thrown around by it, panicking, suffering, just trying to keep your head above water.  That is the experience of my first few years in the monastery.

After a couple of years at the monastery, I got really sick, being in the middle of this transformation.   I had to lie in a room in the dark, on the tatami all day resting.  I remember the light coming through the cracks of the wooden walls piercing my eyes, almost unbearable.

I lay there in the dark, alone, while everyone else was going about their lives in the monastery, being healthy, feeling good, training hard.  I had been working so hard there, really pushing myself, going full bore, always so earnest.  But my relationship with reality was so off, so blind, so incoherent.  I got sick because I was so out of the flow of reality. As I lay there in the dark, not being able to train, not being able to see the Roshi, not being able to do my tanden work, not with the group, not doing zazen in the zendo, not doing qi gong, something began to shift in me.

Many qualities make up a good Zen monk.  Two things are very important to a zen monk. 1.  The ability to focus all of your energy into the action at hand.  This is called shikari.  I burned very bright in this area.  This was somehow innate in me. 2.  The ability to let go.  I was not good at this.

Laying there, in the dark, things began to hit their breaking point.  I could not force any technique.  I could not make anything happen.   I saw that all of my efforts to meet or control reality, to create something or to manifest anything, were preventing me from becoming one with the energy of reality right now.  I had hit rock bottom.  I had nowhere else to turn.  At wits end.  And somehow, in this very dark time, I had the ability to become completely honest, completely sincere.  Completely vulnerable.  And with nothing left to control, I became curious about what was left. Somehow, this quiet time, facing myself, had given me courage.

I lay there, pitiful, sick, but I began to see that I had just as much energy moving through me as ever, even more.  I began to see that reality was seeping through me, permeating me, guiding me how to heal.  Where once I had reached out to reality to manipulate it, to control it, I saw now that in doing so I had missed it.  By rushing, I had run past reality.

So my experience of existence shifted direction from my awareness going outward to the world around me, to the world coming to me and filling me up.  The trees filled me up, the sounds, the environment,  created my body.  The energy of everything external became my internal world.  And the more honest and sincere, the more vulnerable to reality I became, it would flow through me more and more.  And I saw that the moment was huge, and that I could look at the moment, I could take it and walk around it.  The moment was no longer some current of mass confusion, but something I could truly look at, with my whole being.

Many people, in their attempt to deepen spiritually,  end up becoming more manipulative.  They think they are supposed to train their minds to be faster than everyone else.  They think that they must become faster than reality.  Or that it is about control.  Controlling reality. Controlling their environment.  This, I believe, is a big mistake.  It is based on skill, and if it is based on manipulation, then the person will never be able to allow reality to come to them, never become one with reality.  And so it is a race which can never really be won.  There is no sublimity in that.

So, more on my process.  How shall I describe this?  We all have our normal breath.  We walk around and there it is, anxious or relaxed, deep or shallow.  In and out.  I am trying to communicate about something like a second breath.  The process of allowing reality to come to us is like having a second breath.  This second breath, this light,  creates our form in space.  Our body.  The more we align with it, the more we meld with the universe.  It is there, filling us up.  It is there all the time, without fail.  It is not a technique.  I found this, and it has never left me.  This is what I am always trying to communicate when I mention that it is not our muscles that hold us up.  It is this second breath.

At first finding this second breath will be difficult.  Listening to our bodies is the key.  Our bodies want to melt into reality.  We just have to get out of the way.  Often it is like noticing that we are pushing our internal bodies, while we need to allow them to pull.  This is a unique process.  It needs much exploration and patience.  At first, the best way to do this is to be still.  Not trying to meditate.  Not trying to do anything.  Create anything.  And seeing how the body is tense.  Allowing that tension to let go.  The metaphor I always use is that we are like a garden hose which is kinked.  Being honest and sincere, we are able to allow the hose to unkink.  But it is not just about going to sleep.  We have to be incredibly curious.  It has to be that we make a choice that this is more important than our thoughts.  This does not happen overnight… It is a cellular transformation.

And so I healed from my sickness.  And for a year or so I walked the delicate line of congealing with reality.  I knew that I would get sick, the energy would begin to make me sick again, if I did not make it my life’s mission to meet reality.  To meet this second breath.  So I really had no choice.  My experience of life completely shifted after that.  Slowly I shifted how I did everything.  I walked differently, I moved differently.  I knew when I was out of the flow of reality, when my internal gears were grinding, and would adjust more and more easily.  The great life energy which had so violently ruled my life became a constant companion.  Everything settled for me after that.  My training really began to deepen at that point.  And become so joyous!  It became so joyous because it was never going to be about me again.

Now, standing in the garden, the garden comes to me.  It fills me up, it creates my form, like Floating on the Wings of the Dharma.  Sitting here typing, stopping to sense the room, allowing it to adjust my posture, allowing this second breath to permeate me, like a balloon being blown up by the room.  Out taking walks, exploring how my form melds with this ever shifting life energy of the environment.  If I am out of touch with this second breath, this guide, I am suffering.  Connected, it is being guided by God.  It is, for me, Grace.  I can’t fully describe the depth or beauty of this.  It is everything to me.

My work with people is an attempt to share this experience of this second breath, the great life energy which is giving us form.  Working with the Roshi, he showed me energetically, non verbally, how to share this experience.  Opening up all of the senses, completely vulnerable to this great guide, completely honest and sincere, this is my process.  Who would need to control if she had that?  Who would need to manipulate?

I write this blog because some people have asked me to explain about my process.  I hope that it inspires one or two people out there to explore their own unique process.  Everyone does this differently.  Everyone has his/her own entryway.  Finding that path, that process, this is when life becomes a work of art.  We can stop asking for the answers from the outside and go deeper into out own most truthful, most joyful process.  In this we can all find out why we were born.

Thanks for reading.  Again, please forgive me for such incoherent scribbles…

Lots of love!

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