Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
Sitting on the cushion I watched as waves of thought and emotion and physical discomfort rose and fell. Some of them swamping my little psychic boat, while others I was able to navigate, turning into the swell at the right moment, rising to the top, and sailing down the other side. At times the pain of sitting (particularly with a recently sprained ankle), or just the urge to move, became overwhelming and I shifted, or slumped, or stretched my neck. At other times, I would keep my attention pinned to my diaphragm as breath rose and fell.
After some days of sitting a critical mass of energy built, and attention deepened. Body became more still, almost solid. The image arose of the petrified alien some 19th-century miners claimed to have found in a solution pocket while blasting a granite cliff in Wyoming. The wizened figure had human features but was about four feet tall and had small horns protruding from his head. He was found sitting in a cross-legged position, quite upright on a stone platform. Sitting, I imagined myself becoming so still that the body never moved again, consciousness gradually liberating from the confines of skin, while the body turned to stone.
In doing nothing but sitting, the breath beckons with every phase; a gentle flow of wind in and out. Air passing over the upper lip, chest expanding, contracting. And then there arises the sense that what is being breathed is not air but energy; that I am breathing into my belly, or into a space at the center of my chest, which is not lung, but a portal at the center of my sternum leading to a vast open space. It is like sipping air though a straw, sending not just wind but also sound, light, and even fire into a hidden enclave, another world within.
Watching the breath, observation and sensation deepen and more subtle rhythms become apparent: heart beating, multifarious fluids—blood, bile, lymph—coursing through though their channels; organs pulse, pumping, producing, processing; thoughts arise from different parts of the mind, images, words, plans, consideration, fixations, conversations; thoughts that give rise to emotions seeming to be born from the back of the head close to the neck. Multihued feelings play in the chest and solar plexus, everything from frustration to intense equanimity, or anger at some perceived slight represented by images or bits of conversation; then regaining composure, with the realization that precious energy had been squandered on foul emotions; precious moments of opportunity to focus lost; and then, in turn, seeing the disappointment in the same light, becoming a cousin once removed; stepping back, and returning to breath; and perhaps 10 or 20 breaths later noticing the center of gravity sinking, stillness pervading again, inner space opening up, a light beginning to appear on the visual horizon (way beyond the screen of closed eyelids), a rhythm of breath beginning to emerge, growing gradually slower but consistent, and that rhythm permeating the whole organism, bringing all the cycles into polyrhythmic cadence, a galaxy in order.
Only this morning I heard a talk by Deepak Chopra in which he says that the number of cells in the body is only slightly more than the number of stars in a large galaxy. That’s close enough to provide a delicious suggestion that the body is a whole whirled world. I am a galaxy. I am a microcosm. Or a macrocosm from the standpoint of a liver cell, a single star in the galactic body of my person. Most cells die and are replaced every 30 days, and even genetic material can be reformed in that time. It all depends on whether the cells are bathed in love or loathing, consciousness or ignorance, to move the little psychic boat toward heaven or hell.
We are complex systems, and can know this inner world, now, in this moment. It is the undiscovered country. And if it is our aim to explore the terrain, following hints and subtle cues, we can emerge like Mushkil Gusha’s woodcutter (“If you need enough, and want little enough, you will have delicious food”) from the darkened wood, up a magical ladder into a bright open space, like a desert, but comfortable, with colored stones scattered over the ground. In the story he collects them at the direction of a hidden voice, and only later, when he returns to his hovel does he realize they are huge and perfect gems. He is a rich man.
The world of our being contains wealth if we take a few moments to look. Exhuming this treasure is the work of being human, and everything we value flows from it. Awakening the inner trove allows us to be what we are—present, compassionate, and wise.