January 31 – Practicing – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

As a man in his last breath drops all he is carrying, each breath is a little death that can set us free. 

Breathing is the fundamental unit of risk, the atom of inner courage that leads us into authentic living. With each breath, we practice opening, taking in, and releasing. Literally, the teacher is under our nose. When anxious, we simply have to remember to breathe.

So often we make a commitment to change our ways, but stall in the face of old reflexes as new situations arise. When gripped by fear or anxiety, the reflex is to hold on, speed up or remove oneself.  Yet when we feel the reflex to hold on, that is usually the moment we need to let go. When we feel the urgency to speed up, that is typically the instant we need to slow down. Often when we feel the impulse to flee, it is the opportunity to face ourselves. Taking a deep meditative breath, precisely at this moment, can often break the momentum of anxiety and put our psyche in neutral. From here, we just might be able to step in another direction.

I’m not talking about external moments of anxiety here; but inner moments of truth. Certainly, when an accident is unfolding, we need to get out of the way; when a loved on falls, we need to try to hold them. Rather, I’m talking about fear of love and truth and God, fear of change and the unknown. I’m talking about how we all grip tightly to what we know, even if we hurt ourselves in the process.

Dropping all we carry – all our preconceptions, our interior lists of the ways we’ve failed and the ways we’ve been wronged, all the secret burdens we work at maintaining – dropping all regret and expectations lets our mentality die. Dropping all we have constructed as imperative allows us to be born again into the simplicity of spirit that arises from unencumbered being.

It is often overwhelming to imagine changing our entire way of life. Where do we begin? How do we take down a wall that took twenty-five or fifty years to erect? Breath by breath. Little death by little death. Dropping all we carry, instant by instant.  Trusting that was has done the carrying, if freed, will carry us.

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