Monday, February 21, 2011

in breath, out breath

"As you start the practice, you have a sense of your body and a sense of where you are, and then you begin to notice the breathing. The whole feeling of the breath is very important. The breath should not be forced, obviously; you are breathing naturally. The breath is going in and out, in and out. With each breath you become relaxed." - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

In meditation practice, we place our attention again and again on the breath as it goes in and out of our bodies. We go out with our breath, and then come back in, back to our bodies just sitting there on the good earth. Sometimes we may find ourselves going out, out, out with the breath and then staying way out there, feeling spacey and disconnected. Other times we may find ourselves in, in , in - closed, narrow, claustrophobic, forgetting to let go. We have to watch our own minds, and notice when we are too tight or too loose and then adjust accordingly.

I have been contemplating this lately in terms of our daily, weekly and monthly rhythms as a family, with the in breath and out breath as my guides for balance. When we spend to much time extending out - too many activities outside our home, too much stimulation, too many people - we get cranky, irritable, ungrounded and diffused. When we spend to much time focusing our energies inward on our home hearth, staying indoors, not engaging enough with others, being too stationary - we get stuck, myopic, stir-crazy. I have found that I need to hold our energies in my awareness each day, making sure we breathe together in and out.

In my family, we need time each day when we focus on staying grounded in our home - joining together for a song before breakfast, saying good morning to the Buddha and our teachers and sitting quietly for a bit, then doing necessary chores. We also need to exhale out - spending a good amount of time outdoors in the fresh air, getting together with other families when possible, or going to a library story time or other low key activity. I make sure we don't have something planned each day though with others - otherwise we get too overwhelmed and my little ones get too overstimulated. So certain days the focus is on just being with each other, both outside in nature and inside our home, and other days the focus is on a single excursion - a trip to the museum, a play date. Regardless of the day, we make sure to take the in-breath again come evening time - another shared song around the table, a lit candle while we prepare for bed, with my eldest blowing it out after evening chants.

Rather than working with something as scary as a "schedule", which my inherently rebellious nature resists, and which I sometimes suspect are used to make parents feel guilty about the inchoate nature of life with small children, I find that keeping this in-breath, out-breath rhythm feels natural, just as in meditation. After all, we aren't forcing the breath to go in and then out - it just does. The same with our daily and weekly rhythms - we aren't imposing something unnatural on our children, but instead are placing our mindfulness on the natural arising and ebbing of energy, and then going in and out with it.

I think we all feel when we have been indoors too long, or out in the world too much. We feel it physically and psychically, and our children are much more sensitive barometers of when we are out of synch with the breath of the day. We can get even subtler with this, in terms of what we do inside and outside the home - what is too diffuse, and what is too claustrophobic. Ideally our activities have their own internal in and out as well that is nourishing rather than draining. Each child and family is different in this, in terms of what they need to stay connected to the energy of basic goodness, or windhorse. What I have noticed about my own family is that when we are too inwards, we get depressed and stagnant and when we are too much outwards, we get cranky and often physically sick. When I am successful at balancing the in breath and the out breath of our days, things flow for us, we have fun, and we are both grounded and aware of others.

Here is a wonderful teaching by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche on meditation.


  1. I would love to incorporate Buddhism more in my daughters life, but need some suggestions. Is there a resource that has easy chants or methods to incorporate Buddhism into family life?... a busy family? :-) Thank You!!!

  2. Hello! I am planning a post on this very subject...but in the meantime, I think the most effective way to begin to incorporate buddhism is if we as the parents begin practicing meditation in our homes, even if it is just for a very brief period each day in the morning when we first get up or in the evening before bed. You can set up a very simple place in your house that is dedicated to meditation- somewhere away from the bills and technology :). You can invite your daughter to join you if she shows interest, or if she is very small, just bring her along, in your lap as you sit, or with some toys to keep her occupied. In our house we do daily morning and evening chants from our spiritual tradition, and the boys just began to naturally join in with us after awhile, after observing us doing it for so long. If you don't have a particular buddhist tradition you are part of, some nice resources are "Everyday Blessings" by Jon Kabat-Zinn and "Being Peace" or "Peace is Every Step" by Thich Nhat Hanh - they both have nice little chants and things you can do in them and are often at your local library. You can also do something as simple as before each meal just taking a few breaths together when you sit down, before you begin eating. And you can just express the aspiration that all beings be nourished before you begin - simple things like that. Some nice stories to share with children about the Buddha and buddhist teachings are the Jataka tales, which can be found in different editions - these are little stories telling about the many past lives of the Buddha and feature animals etc and little moral teachings and children really love them. I hope this helps, and stay tuned for a longer post on this with many more ideas. Thank you for reading and for your comment!