Fear Less

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Steep Ravine

My intention is to create a series of blogs that have to do with creating space in our lives through the awareness of the breath.

The longer I teach didgeridoo (Australian Aboriginal instrument that creates a drone) , the more I learn that this instrument is truly an instrument of peace and spaciousness (see Sound Rivers.net). On one level it is merely a physical act of blowing through a tube to make a sound; on another, it is an act that brings one fully and consciously into the moment.

Last night I went to a dharma talk at the Insight Meditation Community of Berkeley http://www.insightberkeley.org (Bancroft near Martin Luther King Jr. Way) where Donald Rothberg was the guest dharma teacher. His topic was fear. Overactive fear has long been a damaging feature on the landscape of this country. Since 9-11 that feature has become even more pronounced in our government and in the individuals living here. Take the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case and our acquiescence to surveillance by our own government as recent evidence of the fear we walk around holding.

Rothberg spoke of the way fear can enter our bodies and lodge there so that when it arises, there may be no story attached at all, just intensely uncomfortable body sensation. Our minds might then create a story to account for the sensation, perhaps we find an enemy to go after to alleviate that horrible sensation. One way that he has found to deal with irrational fear is to send out metta or lovingkindness, thus transforming the energies of fear. Fear cannot exist in the midst of lovingkindness.

Yes and let’s find more ways as well to work with the body, not just the mind. I have found that on at least two levels the didgeridoo works with these very energies and transforms them into deep peace and a feeling of at easeness with the universe. The low drone itself surrounds and holds the body, allowing it to relax. And circular breathing requires diaphragmatic breathing that cannot co-exist with anxiety.

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Elise playing agave didgeridoo

When we breathe shallowly, using just the upper lungs, we are straining to try to control the universe and how much of it we will let in. Most people in western culture routinely breathe in a shallow way that keeps the breath out of our deepest selves. It is a kind of breath that says to the universe, “mind your own business; I’ve got things under control here.” When we have the wherewithal to let that breath in deeply, the anxious need for control vanishes. Then a way to connect with whatever situation is at hand arises in the now, not in a fear-based story about the future.

The in-breath is a gift from the universe, the out-breath what we offer back to the universe. By taking the breath fully into our deepest places through a process of letting go, we give the breath a chance to transform us so that what we offer is not just our own agenda, but a conduit for harmony.

Deep breathing goes to the place where we connect with other humans, with our place in the ecosystem, with other creatures, and with our ancestors. It is a cornucopia of resources. And yet how often do we get there? Some of us, only in our dreams (making dreams even more crucial to our lives).

Why is sleep apnea so prevalent in this culture? Could it be because we are so unused to allowing breath to ful/fill us that even in sleep we find ways to shut it down? Perhaps this is why the only cure for sleep apnea that is known is circular breathing and why it is so difficult for many to learn it. Circular breathing is not just a technique, it is a deep letting go of fear.

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No Shame

If you are looking for something to do this weekend, please take yourself to a treat of a play, La Cage au Folle at the Contra Costa Civic Theater, the last weekend it plays. The performances (all volunteer, by the way—community theater), were heartfelt, funny, talented and transporting. These are characters who play very specific people but whose emotions could be mine or yours. Never have I seen a production of this play that so reminded me of the times I did not fit in, tried to pass for something I wasn’t, hid in shame over some part of myself and found relief and redemption in coming out of the closet, voluntarily or–as if this case–involuntarily. My hat is off to the director and the actors.