Oakville Zen Meditation

489 The Breath as a Bridge by Mark Feb. 3 24

The Breath as a Bridge

Our bodies have both conscious and unconscious awareness, conscious and unconscious behavior, and conscious and unconscious minds. For instance, we can think, consciously, ‘I want to move my arm’, and then move our arm. We feel like we have agency and control over that. We also have unconscious behavior. For example, we can’t decide to make our kidneys stop working or our hearts stop beating. This is controlled at the deeper levels of our unconscious mind.

The breath sits somewhere in the middle, a foot in both the conscious and unconscious mind. We can decide to breathe a little deeper, or even hold our breath for a while. These are conscious thoughts and behaviors. However, we can never decide to intentionally stop breathing permanently. This type of breathing is unconscious. It is controlled at the deepest part of the mind. So, our breath has elements of both the conscious and unconscious. 

When we meditate, and particularly, when we meditate for extended periods and achieve deep levels of concentration we can experience the arising of strong emotions, feelings, and sensations. They seem to come out of ‘nowhere’, but they actually emanate from the deepest part of our unconscious minds. In this deeper part of our mind, we have buried a lifetime of negative thoughts, reactions, emotions, and perceptions. They sit there and we are unaware of them. A deeper meditation practice, focused on the breath can unlock them. That is because the breath is a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind. 

Most of our meditation works on the surface level of the mind. And this type of practice is certainly not without merit. Observing thoughts coming and going, noticing the wandering mind, and returning to the breath is beneficial and does help us ‘ride the waves’ of the daily ups and downs of our lives. Meditations that probe the deeper, unconscious corners of our minds, while upsetting at times, allow us to access the deeper resource of calm, balance, and equanimity that also exists there.

We often use this metaphor of ‘surfing the waves’ of the ocean of life to describe the practice and benefits of meditation. But I like the idea of adding the true sense of stability, calm, and gentle flow that exists much deeper below the surface of the ocean. Yes, the surface can be very choppy from time and time, and we live our lives on the surface. This cannot be avoided. Learning to ride out the waves as they come and go is beneficial. But we also need to tap into the deep resource of equanimity that lives deeper in our minds. This is where we can find the true strength to support ourselves over the longer term. It is always there if we learn how to tap into it. The surface waves come and go but the stability found in the depths of our mind is always present. 

If you have the chance to develop this deeper resource of calm and equanimity it can support you in your day-to-day life and support the more regular meditation that works on the surface, conscious part of the mind.