Breathing Exercise: A How-To Poem

For Gil Fronsdal
and in memory of Mark O’Brien (1949-1999)

The distance between the brightness
at the top of the spine
and the darkness below it

is not far
but when you shrink your mind
it is enormous

the whole length
of human history
can be fit inside it

One way to reduce it a little
is with practice and preparation

(the latter takes minutes each morning
the former has taken me years)

to gather the sensations in our belly
into our in-breath

(do this slowly and with enjoyment
the darkness deep inside us
should be like the jungle in Thailand

where we may acknowledge the presence
of unseen pythons and kraits

but our actual sensations
as we search the deep canopy
for crimson sunbirds

are of lazy butterflies
and flowering lianas)

and then by a skilled relaxing
of both muscle and nerve
guide our breathing

slowly up the back of our spine
so that it breaks over the top
like a wave breaking over a quiet beach

to drench the scattered thoughts
spread out to no purpose
and then draw them slowly back down

in the descent of the out-breath
to the dark easy rhythm

of the untiring diaphragm
where the in-breath began

Relax the spaces in between
each vertebra
let each space slightly expand

until in each out-breath
you can exhale metta                                                                                  loving-kindness

commingling the cool light
and warm darkness

to those whom you usually consider
enemies and friends

From: Mosaic Orpheus, McGill-Queens University Press, 2009.

Posted: Tue 29 Dec, 2009