The Art of Breathing

A colleague caught me mid breath one day. It was one of those days that butterflies would have looked on me with mixed emotions.

On the one hand with pride: When did this caterpillar learn to flit like this?

On the other hand with amused tolerance: The half-wit seems to be forgetting the sweet joy of collecting nectar amidst pretty bright flowers, with all the fast paced flitting. Forfeiting the sweet thing about flitting – tut tut!  Flutter tutter utter nutter! (I am not high up on the poems caterpillars learn to sing about when still creepy crawlies; and the butterfly metaphor only goes so far!)

Anyway, it was one of the many days in which I flitted about the old work spot tasking, multi-tasking, sub-tasking, reminding others about their tasking, setting reminders for my own tasks and so on. Thoroughly immersed in my second self that Mary Oliver so succinctly calls the Social Self…yes, it was one of those days.

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream, is a book of many marvelous essays.  The essay, Of Power and Time, talks about the three selves in many of us:

•The Child Self

•The Social Self &

•The Eternal Self.

 

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Though in the essay, Mary Oliver, refers to the Eternal Self as the artistic self, I like to interpret it as the Creative self.

• The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us.

• The second self is the social self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer.

• Then, there is the third self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer.

T’was during one of these trying days that I remembered the deep breath technique my Yoga teachers had tried to teach me about. Take deep breaths, and concentrate on it filling your stomach, feel it coming in and out of your nostrils and so on. So, I started my deep breaths as I was walking from one meeting to another. Deep breath, exhale, deep breath, exhale and so on. I had thought no one watched, but one colleague caught me, and grinned. “That should be your GIF you know?” he said.

I nodded sheepishly, and went back to my brand of breath-less flitting within minutes.

Later that week-end I ran into this beautiful children’s book in the library. A book that was just waiting to be written. A beautiful capture of all the different types of breath, Alphabreaths 

Written by : Christopher Willard (a clinical psychologist) & Rechtschaffen MA, Daniel (a counselor)

Illustrated by:  Clifton-Brown

 

 

The book is a lovely read urging us to Breathe like a Dolphin taking a dive, or our favorite one, The Ninja Breath – silently and slowly. The illustrations too make for a marvelously relaxing read. Please check out their Youtube clip : here

 

 

Mindful breathing and Yoga are excellent concepts to teach the children, and I am always in awe of those who can take complex concepts and make them palatable for the consumption of young and old alike.

If you happen to come home and find the son and I swimming like dolphins or getting ready for a Star Trek mission on the floor while Yoga-ing along with the Cosmic Kids Yoga series by Jaime Amor , do not be alarmed. Her yoga videos are appealing and fun. If, along the way, we do something to calm ourselves down – then great, else, we have had a great time.

There are so many aspects to the Philosophy of Being (I am amused it has such a strictly medical sounding name: Ontology)

Ontology is the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being, and reading the Wikipedia page itself boggles my simple mind (A post on the Study of Philosophy is sitting up on its hind legs and begging to be written). Maybe, what is required is a Ninja Training on Ontology. Excerpt from the wiki page:

Such an understanding of ontological categories, however, is merely taxonomic, classificatory. Aristotle’s categories are the ways in which a being may be addressed simply as a being, such as:[9]

  • what it is (its ‘whatness’, quiddity, haecceity or essence)
  • how it is (its ‘howness’ or qualitativeness)
  • how much it is (quantitativeness)
  • where it is (its relatedness to other beings)

*** Taking a Y for Yawning Breath before a Z for zzzz breath about now ****

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Keeping ontological explanations aside, if The Nature of Being comes down to simple techniques of breath, fluidity and movement, it makes the simplicity behind it all brilliant.

It was one of those ‘Simple is brilliant’ types of  quotes that I went looking for. I know many brilliant blokes and blokees have said marvelous things about simplicity -I know old Leonardo Da Vinci said something about it, so did old man, Einstein. In any case, looking for one of those made me fumble on this one by Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl

From Wikipedia: Thor Heyerdahl became notable for his Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, in which he sailed 8,000 km (5,000 mi) across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands. The expedition was designed to demonstrate that ancient people could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between separate cultures.

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Continue reading “The Art of Breathing”

What is your Friend?

The din from the kitchen area was appalling. One of our favorite aunts was a-visiting and the nieces had gathered around for a day of fun, and laughter which she invariably ensured was there around her. 

“What is your day like Athai (Aunt) ? How do you pass time?” we asked.

This is one of the questions that I pose to those of the older generation often. I know boredom and loneliness can be a big problem for some people. However, there are a few in the older generation who somehow manage to retain their vibrant joie-de-vivre as they age, so that they are not just occupied but keep themselves happily occupied and stimulated. 

“I am occupied enough, “ she began. After she told us in loving detail of time spent with her family, particularly grandsons, she said with a smile. “I practice what I want to teach later in the day to my students, and I find the time flies past. Music is really a friend.“

It was true. I remember visiting this Aunt a few months ago, and heard her humming and practicing a particularly tricky song that she wanted to teach her student later that day. She was trying it as she cooked & cleaned and it made for a comforting background while we went about our day. 

Many I know find it heavy-going after retiring from their busy lives. Some find solace in the demands of religion, others find themselves watching a lot of television. A few, though, find ways in which to keep themselves intellectually stimulated and happy.  These people seem to me the kind of people who are not only in touch with their Eternal Selves, but also nourished and sustained it. They are the ones who quite unwittingly spread joy and happiness around them by virtue of being happy with their own state of being.

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream, is a book of many marvelous essays.  The essay, Of Power and Time, talks about the three selves in many of us:

  • The Child Self
  • The Social Self &
  • The Eternal Self.

Though in the essay, Mary Oliver, refers to the Eternal Self as the artistic self, I like to interpret it as the Creative self. 

  • The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. 
  • The second self is the social self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer. 
  • Then, there is the third self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer. 

upstream

Talking to people around me, I hear many who say that they would do this or that after retirement: I would take up gardening after retiring, I will take up reading after retiring. I am guilty of postponing  some of my desires to a golden time in my mind that is post-retirement ( I will learn to play an instrument after I retire).

But how would you know whether you like one activity over the other? The problem is finding that ‘something’ becomes more elusive the longer you deny it. 

Finding something that makes us want to do something without rewards is at once the least monetarily tangible and the most gratifying thing in the world. Not all of us can lead the life of an artist, but we each can devote small amounts of time consistently to find an artistic pursuit that sustains us. It may be in the creative process in things as varied as tinkering with wood, or analyzing the ebb and flow of economic market conditions. 

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.” – Mary Oliver

The Aunt who said “Music is a friend!” gave to her creative spirit time and power.

What is your friend?

Note: A version of the essay by Mary Oliver is found here: 

Mary Oliver: The Artist’s Task 

Brain Pickings – The Third Self

The Three Selves

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream, is a book of many marvelous essays. One in particular stood out: Of Power and Time. This one is about the three selves in many of us:

  • The Child Self
  • The Social Self &
  • The Eternal Self.

upstream

Reflecting upon the piece, I realized we should know this by now, and we probably do at some level, but it takes a clairvoyant writer to set it out so neatly.

The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. I completely identify with that. I am decades away from my childhood, but I can dip into it like I only just grew up.  Everything felt keener and sharper as children, and that is part of the reason why The Child Self never really leaves us, I suppose. (Probably the reason why I forget the name of the person I met yesterday, but remember the names of my friends from when I was 5 years old : What is Time?)

While young, I yearned to grow up, and in the words of L M Montgomery realize that growing up is not half as fun as it is purported to be.

“That’s the worst of growing up, and I’m beginning to realize it. The things you wanted so much when you were a child don’t seem half so wonderful to you when you get them.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

The second self is the Social Self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer. The one, in short, that most of us find ourselves trapped in for the most part of our lives. This is “the smiler and the doorkeeper” as Mary Oliver so elegantly puts it. This self I am familiar with: metaphorically the whirlpool, the swift horses of time, the minute  keeper.

“This is the portion that winds the clock, that steers through the dailiness of life, that keeps in mind appointments that must be made. Whether it gathers as it goes some branch of wisdom or delight, or nothing at all, is a matter with which it is hardly concerned. What this self hears night and day, what it loves beyond all other songs, is the endless springing forward of the clock, those measures strict and vivacious, and full of certainty.”

The social, attentive self’s surety is what makes the world go around as she says.

Then, there is the third self: The Creative Self, the dreamer, the wanderer.
“Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary, it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.”

The essay goes on explain the regular, ordinary self in contrast to the creative self. The Creative Self – the one that is out of love with the ordinary, out of love with the demands of time or the regular routines of life, is concerned with something else, the extraordinary. This is the self, she says, that makes the world move forward.

“The extraordinary is what Art is about. No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures it is seldom seen, It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes its solitude.”

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The essay was eye-opening in many ways. For I know many, including myself, have to fill our days with the demands of the clock. It is also easier to be the do-er, so that we may not have to enter that difficult place of teasing, figuring and wrestling the extraordinary out; to give shape to the nebulous clouds skirting in the recesses of the brain.

There is nothing wrong with succumbing to the demands of the clock, but it is a valuable lesson to teach ourselves to take our brains for a tease and see what results, isn’t it? We may land up surprising ourselves if only we give it the chance.

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.”

What do we do to ensure that there is enough time in our lives to ensure the nurturing of the Eternal Self? (Read: The Art & Charm of Shoshin) I don’t know the answer yet, but when I do, I shall hop on social media and share it right away.

Note:

A version of the essay is found here: 

Mary Oliver: The Artist’s Task 

Brain Pickings – The Third Self

Nature’s Shows

This article was published in The Hindu Open Page: The Art & Charm of Shoshin

If anyone has spent time watching pebbles make ripples across ponds, they will know what I am talking about. If not, I encourage you to take on your person a couple of pebbles and hike up the high hills and mountains, or cut through the pristine forests, in search of a puddle, pond or lake of reasonable size to cause ripples. Then, with the hand held flat, proceed to skip the pebbles into the water. The skillful amongst you may get the pebble to skip and skim the waters in the first few attempts causing beautiful rippling waves as they go along. I did not. Watch for the word skilled in the sentence – pebble throwing is an art that isn’t appreciated enough.

The son attempted a large stone throw and I held onto him lest he launch himself with the stone. Size matters: large stones and small boys could cause the cannon to fly with the missile. This is the kind of thing that would have made Newton come up with complex mathematical calculations to support the theory of pebbles and ripples, missiles and cannons, and extend it to comets and stars. We, on the other hand laughed, and substituted a flattish stone is his hand. Father and son threw pebbles and I sat watching mesmerized at the beautiful rippling effect it had on the water.

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It was a lovely bright day, one of those gems that present itself in the midst of a rainy stormy week. Much as I adore watching the storm rage around me, and the wind whip the bare branches to breaking point, it doesn’t make conducive walking environments. I tried. I went out for a walk during the raging storm that had flights circling the air space multiple times before attempting to land, and I must say that I was wetter than water. It took 3 days for my shoes to start feeling damp again. The daughter shook her head sternly and said I was going to come down with a pneumonia if I continued on this idiotic path of loving the rain. “Are Pluviophiles Pneumoniophiles?” I asked her, and told her to be crazy and feel the rain, love the rain and watch the rain. She watched me with love, and a strong feeling that I was crazy. Oh well.

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I raised my face upwards towards the sun and my thoughts drifted once again. As I sat there thinking of this and that, a beautiful thing happened. The mind snapped out of the mundane and omnipresent things that occupied it, and went into a lovely, meditative state. Watching the sun sparkles drift meditatively on the waters was marvelous. The world seemed to be throwing these tiny diamonds into the water for our enjoyment and they drifted obligingly with the tiny waves, Little shimmers bobbing up and down, dancing and shining in the sun’s rays, set to the perfect rhythm of the breeze rustling through the bare winter branches of the trees nearby. The earth was bursting with new shoots and moss lined pathways.

Ducks, coots pelicans and geese were bobbing on the waters in the distance. Birds were chirping and swooping -I enjoyed the swift elegant swoops of swallows as much as the impressive regal swoops of the hawks overhead. Some people were biking, some others walking. The clouds – white today, drifted lazily across the skies, as though they too enjoyed the sunshine and did not want to hide the sun. The air smelt fresh and clean with little wafts of eucalyptus and fir scented drifts.

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Nature’s shows are marvelous. For a moment I forgot about the to-do lists, the worries and tensions that a concept of a New Year brings, and enjoyed the free show in front of me feeling revived and refreshed in spirit with every passing moment. All my senses keen, alert and marveling at the wonder around me. I looked at the little fellow enjoying himself by the waters, and hoped that he would remember these simple pleasures as he grows and takes his place in this frenetic world.

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Edit: After I wrote this post, I saw this excerpt by Mary Oliver on one of my social media feeds: it is from the book, Upstream, and I look forward to reading the book, but this piece of writing spoke to my heart (bolding my own):

Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatia . Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones-inkberry, lamb’s quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones-rosemary, oregano. Given them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves, and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.

Attention is the beginning of devotion.

My hope is for everyone to savor a moment like that every now and then, to keep the capacity to wonder alive in us. The beauty of Shoshin.