Just Three Breaths
Most of us are aware of the three breaths practice as a simple meditation technique that can carry us through both difficulty and detours. It puts practice into a bite-size package—a package that feeds our aspiration in a way our ego feels it can manage. All we have to do is stop, bring awareness to the breath, and feel the sensations of the experience of the moment, for just three waves of inhale and exhale. It sounds so simple. It is so simple once we remember. The question is, do we remember, and more importantly, are we willing? Are we taking full advantage of this practice technique and its potential to provide a sense of hopefulness when we are dealing with something that feels overwhelming?
This practice can also provide an opportunity for presence when we are struggling with being lost in some compelling false comfort or dense sleep. If we are willing, we can stop for just three breaths and allow ourselves to be with the anger, the fear, the sorrow, the disappointment, the emotion of the moment. We can be willing for just three breaths to BE WITH the overindulgence, the aversion, the judgmental hopelessness of any one experience. We can catch ourselves and be present to our own distraction, aversion, or current form of self-deception.
The gift of three breaths is that it allows us, just for this brief time, to see that it is possible to live with the moment, just as it is. Whatever is overwhelming us can be accepted and held in the stillness. It allows us to experience, just for three breaths, that the consuming mind chatter of reactivity is not the whole story. And inherent in that brief time of acceptance is the potential for a larger experience of life as it is. It allows us to feel life rather than judge life. It allows us to show up to the whole of it, expanding our circle beyond the suffering or sleepiness of the little me.
Through conscious intention, with three breaths practice we literally bring a larger container to whatever the circumstance is. When we are dealing with something especially difficult, the challenge is to bring our aspiration into that suffering—to allow the breath to literally hold the experience of suffering—to allow ourselves to tap into an expanded awareness and see that the experience of suffering is NOT the whole of it.
When we look closely at difficult experiences, we are rarely alone in them. We may feel alone, but if we are willing we can see that, in fact, in most circumstances there are many others that have experienced or are right now experiencing the same or very similar situations. We can see that our difficult experience is a difficulty shared with many across the globe and we can then feel connected, in the larger container of life. By seeing that it is not just us, we can surrender the need to fall into being a victim that is lost in “Why me?” or “How could this be?”
With just three breaths, we can potentially awaken the heart of compassion for ourselves and all around us who share this life experience. We can awaken the heart of compassion that recognizes that yes, this is part of the whole of it, or life as it is.
Difficult experiences can compel us to bring practice forward out of desperation. Sometimes it is trickier to remember to use three breaths when we are sleepily going through everyday life. Yet the value, the hopefulness, of this opportunity is right there waiting for us.
When we use three breaths practice in the checkout line at the grocery store, we have the opportunity to experience the people around us, the effort, the motion, the faces, the air, the texture. We can take in the shared experience of tending to life in this way, in this moment. When we use three breaths practice at the stop light we feel our rushing, the surrounding motion, and the thoughts of our judgmental mind. When we use three breaths practice in the middle of an irritation—someone may have made a very small comment that caused irritation or self doubt—we allow ourselves to feel deeper and to literally hold the experience in the larger expansiveness of the breath, rather than in the tightness of the little self.
When we use three breaths practice when things are even and it is just a nice day, we can feel more fully the texture of those moments. We can feel the grace of the calm, gentle breeze, see the detail of the natural beauty around us, notice the gift of breathing evenly, deeply, fully, without restriction. We can potentially experience the joy and depth and width of the comfort of now that is so often taken for granted.
With three breaths practice we can begin to allow the larger container of life, the larger self, to come forward bit by bit. We can begin to start living from our BEING. We can begin to experience BEING and work our way toward a larger place of compassion for self and others.
As we remember our practice principles we might see the place where just three breaths practice brings us into the silence that allows for these words to be understood:
No longer so ready to be caught in the
relentless spinning mind... Life simply
unfolds as it will.
Vast is the path of liberation,
A formless field of benefaction,
Dwelling in the heart of awareness,
Compassion and wisdom awaken.
The gentle openness of these vows speaks to the potential of the breath itself. The place where the breath has the ability to hold it all with no boundary and with the compassion of the awakened heart.
by Diane Moore
Practice Leader—Santa Rosa Zen Group