The Breath of Life

by Anna

I have come to see more and more recently, how important our breathing is and how distant we become from ourselves if we are unable to connect with our breath. Breath is life – life is breathing. We could possibly survive without food for about a month or two, without water for two to three days but without oxygen only for a few minutes.

Breathing deeply can help to maintain the connection to our body and inner self. Taking a deep breath and following the natural flow of your breathing in and out of your body for a few minutes can be a simple way to celebrate being alive. It can bring you back into the present moment and also give you a sense of calmness and being at peace with yourself.

However, not everyone is able to breathe properly, me included. I spent a week at Plum Village recently, a Buddhist retreat in France, and there I learned to use any kind of sound – a bell, ringing phone, door bell, beeping car – as a way of centring, bringing my awareness back to my breath and most importantly, to drop my shoulders.

Small Bell at the Lower Hamlet, Plum Village

At first, this was strange to me, I actually tensed up even more whenever I heard the mindfulness bell, as if I innately feared something bad was going to happen. At the same time I realised that my breath literally got stuck in my chest, I was unable to breathe properly. It was as if someone was holding a tight grip on my neck and shoulders, as if I was doing something I shouldn’t do, as if I wasn’t allowed to be alive.

This actually translates nicely onto my father’s decision to have me aborted. His words posed a danger to my most basic need, being alive and breathing, and once I took my first breath they unconsciously haunted me for most of my life, giving me the feeling that I shouldn’t be here, alive, breathing.

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

I had some deep revelations and a lot of letting go during my stay at Plum Village, which you can read about in the category “On the Road to Mindfulness“, and soon I began to relax whenever I heard the bell. I even began to long for the sound of mindfulness to bring me back to peace.

Back home I found this clever gadget, a mindfulness bell that you can install on your computer, or run via your web browser and that you can set to a preferred time or let it surprise you at random.

I even extended the idea of using any sound to bring me back to the present moment to someone screaming outside, which used to infuriate me, but has now become a reason for me to simply focus on my breathing and to smile. Believe it or not, I actually sleep through most of the midnight screamers now 🙂

It was a couple of months before I learned about the mindfulness bell that I felt the urge to get myself another singing bowl in addition to the one I had bought in Nepal a few years ago. It is only now that I realise that this little bowl serves as the perfect mindfulness bell! 🙂

By living more consciously aware of yourself and your surroundings you can celebrate life at any moment in time. Another tool I would like to carry forth from Plum Village is the practice of slow walking, or walking meditation. Walking not to get somewhere but simply to walk for the sake of walking, breathing, slowing down and arriving in the present moment.

While I was doing just that today along our seafront on the sand that the low tide had revealed, I decided I am going to invite others along whenever I do a walk like that to spread the teaching of mindfulness and help others to slow down and become more peaceful within themselves.

Monks and Nuns walking slowly at Son Ha, Plum Village

So if you read this and you live somewhere around Eastbourne, or are planning to visit, and would like to join me on a mindful low tide walk along Eastbourne’s seafront, follow me on Facebook or Twitter where I will announce when I will be going. This will be very sporadic, whenever I am free and it happens to be low tide, and quite likely on a short term notice.

The walk will be very slow and in silence, but there will be time after and before for questions. Make sure you are there at least 5 minutes before the time stated, I will not wait. As a meeting point I suggest the old fountain outside of Fusciardie’s Ice Cream Parlour. I like to walk barefoot, and like to encourage others to do the same, but feel free to wear wellies or water proof shoes if it would make you feel more comfortable. There is absolutely no charge, besides, air is free to breathe as well 😉

However, if you wish to donate something, I would like to collect for urgent maintenance and repair work in Plum Village, aiming to send all donations over in December as a Christmas present. Plum Village is such a tranquil place of peace and calm, which also supports a lot of Vietnamese living under very poor conditions in Vietnam.

My room was in Persimmon House at the Lower Hamlet, Plum Village

Plum Village was established over 30 years ago, and time is passing which means that there are cracks in the walls and boards falling from the ceilings (yes it came down right outside my room door :)).  There also are a lot of Government regulations and expectations to live up to, and if things don’t improve, Plum Village will not be able to take any more visitors, which would be a great loss.

Bell Tower and Lotus Pond at Lower Hamlet, Plum Village

If you are unable to join me, why not practice on your own. Walk slowly, breath deeply and smile to yourself 😉

Enjoy living and breathing in the present moment!