The Breath of Life
Orphic mysteries address the soul, ‘You who would breathe once more the air of heaven, greetings!’ As Gurdjieff describes, breathing air is one of the three types of nourishment, along with light and food. Without this nourishment, the human organism ceases to function, although the necessity of each food varies. One can live without light, literally as in the night time, or psychologically in imagination. One can go hungry, both of physical food and of experiences that feed the mind and the heart. But one has to breathe, a three second cycle of little variation. This anonymous, subtle rhythm of one’s life is so consistent, it cannot be accidental. ‘Time is breath,’ Gurdjieff told his students, without saying more. But Gurdjieff had pointed out the significance of time, not in its passage but its measurement of consciousness.
Since the cycle of breath is mechanical, and ‘every breath brings a new thought,’ as Rodney Collin observes, one realizes that this repetitive cycle brings an advantage to one’s efforts. An ‘I’ becomes the stimulus for consciousness, rather than identification. ‘The moment a thought arises in your mind,’ says a Zen master, ‘awaken right then and there.’ One has discovered a practical aim for one’s inner work, a focus for what one wants to achieve. Awakening does not occur in an abstract, non-physical place, but literally within oneself.
With this aim, one draws in a breath while making an effort to be present. As ‘I’s’ appear, one gently refuses to let them interrupt presence. Consciousness grows, and the I’s recede. Sometimes, one enters a perfect, inner silence. After a few moments, the breath becomes energized, as though one were breathing for the first time. One is awake, purified of thought. In this way, breath becomes a rhythm for the efforts to awaken. Instead of the mechanical passage of breath, breath becomes the time-keeper of presence.