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In part one of this series we looked at the most commonly given answers to the question of living silently in the moment. The first answer we examined, “Sit in Silence, Watch your breathing” involves sitting down, usually with eyes closed to give our mind a break and using our breath as a focus. The general idea is to retreat from the world around us to a quiet place in the hopes that the outer silence will encourage inner silence. Before we go deeper into how this might work, let’s consider the challenges with this approach. One issue is that thoughts may seem louder rather than quieter when we are alone with our own attention. It’s a tricky problem because action or inaction can both be a source of runaway thinking. When we are out and about and active in the world there are many things pulling our attention away from our inner self which is the place of meditation. But when we are alone in a silent place with nothing else to do, thoughts are given more space to operate in. Consider how often people throw themselves into work or games to escape from troubling thoughts or memories. We can see how sitting alone with eyes closed can be associated with too much thinking rather than mental silence.


Watching our breathing is often presented as a way out, to distract ourselves from our thinking habits, but it is more than a simple distraction. The breath of life – “prana” is the Sanskrit word – is meant to be invoked when we meditate on the intake and outtake of breath. For the ancient Greeks, this vital force was known as “pneuma”. It’s also know as “anima” the animating force or breath in Latin, “Ruh”, the breath of God for Sufis or Muslims, “Ruah” in the Hebrew scriptures. In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to the relationship between breath and Spirit:

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  John 3:8

These spiritual meanings of this “breath of life” obviously refer to a subtle energy, not simple air that we can breath into our lungs, but the hope is that our own breath can resonate with that invisible prana if we open ourself to the possibility. The fact that this invisible vital force is a universal principle recognized by so many ancient cultures offers us encouragement that the experience of this path is possible. The fascination of this theme continues beyond ancient religions, not only among those who seek to revive ancient practices, but in contemporary culture as well. The L.A. rock band “Tool” provides one example:


We are spirit bound to this flesh

We go round one foot nailed down

But bound to reach out and beyond this flesh, become Pneuma

We are will and wonder, bound to recall, remember

We are born of one breath, one Word

We are all one spark, sun becoming

Child, wake up

Child, release the light

Wake up now

Child, wake up

Child, release the light

Wake up now, child

(Spirit, Spirit, Spirit, Spirit)

Bound to this flesh, this guise, this mask, this dream

Wake up remember

We are born of one breath, one word

We are all one spark, sun becoming


Reach out and beyond

Wake up remember

We are born of one breath, one Word

We are all one spark, eyes full of wonder

Writers: Maynard James Keenan, Danny Carey, Adam Jones, Justin Chancell

When I looked for commentary by the band on the content of the song I came across a BBC Radio 1 interview as part of a Tool special (aired 2019/09/01). Besides confirming that the song is indeed about Spiritual transformation and reintegration, vocalist Maynard James Keenan observed how the effort to affect the Spiritual release of letting things go is, in his case, accompanied by the actual release of his breath. Here is a brief exchange from the interview:

Interviewer: The thing I noticed in [“Pneuma” ] …in a classical sense that means both Spirit and breath, correct?

Keenan: Correct

Interviewer: …it made me think of yogic practice, in a very simple way just taking a minute and taking a breath as a way of dealing with everything that is going on around us which is pure chaos it seems.

Keenan: Yeah… when I’m frustrated I have a “tell”, my exhale is my… (Keenan makes a frustrated sounding exhalation) and [my friends] they go “Ah! he’s mad about something”

It recalls how often when people are frightened, angry or otherwise overwhelmed by their attachment to feelings and situations, they are advised to “stop and take a breath”.

Rehearsing Enlightenment

What would it be like to witness our breathing in a state deep enough to allow us to sympathize with the breath of all reality, something so deep and universal that it is said to exist in all places at all times? Though breathing is a common focus, it’s the watching part that is the real secret. In fact we can watch any part of ourselves, anything inside our outside ourselves, but if we are experiencing through thought, we are not living in the moment at all, let alone being in touch with that which is everywhere at once.

We need a way around the mind to access what is beyond thought. Using breathing exercises to open the way to the breath of life is like a child playing house: the toy oven cannot be used to cook food, the plastic tea pot isn’t hot and play food can’t actually be chewed and digested. But this doesn’t mean that children playing house is useless. For example, baking cookies is a lot easier without small children “helping”, but we encourage them to do so because children first learn to identify with adult roles and responsibilities by playing at life. What happens when we practice “playing” at enlightenment? Even though the child helping bake is not actually running things, they are learning the patterns that when fully evolved will lead to a place and time where they will be able to bake for themselves.

No one has to teach us how to breathe. If breathing were not spontaneous, there could be no life. And so it is with the breath of life. Unlike the knowledge of how to bake, the breath of life has its source within us where it already exists perfect and complete. But just like the parent guiding the child in the kitchen, we can allow the wisdom and the techniques of ages past guide us, even though we may only begin by playing the part. What is that wisdom? and how do we discover something within that cannot be granted to us by others from the outside?

Self Realization

It begins with self realization. The simplest way I know to find out what that’s like is to begin the process with Sahaja Yoga. What makes the discoveries of Sahaja Yoga unique among meditation practices is something seekers have to treat as a hypothesis until they have a chance to discover it for themselves, so take this description as a theory to test. After all, the word “Sahaja” itself mean innate, something spontaneous within us, so it is our own experience that counts. In this case, there is some proof of concept in the fact that Sahaja Yoga facilitates that which is innate within us without expense as classes and materials world wide are always provided free of charge. Sahaja Yoga is sponsored by those who teach and practice it so that others may come and experience it for free as those who organize it once did themselves – and so has it been established since Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi first began this movement 50 years ago.

A 20 minute guided meditation experience with music

The Kundalini

Breathing happens inside us, and just as the child playing at baking acts out steps he will some day walk in truth, the popularity of breathing disciplines and the way they turn our gaze inward  is a clue about what the experience of enlightenment will be. We are not Gods, but we contain the Divine breath within us. Being “born of the Spirit” is a reference to the eternal Spirit, and many faith traditions describe enlightenment as being “born again”. This rebirth is the revelation of a mirror within us that reflects the Divine. When our mother gave birth to us, the new phase of our existence began with a breath, the very first use of our own lungs. It is fitting that when the energy of our transformation awakens from dormancy in the sacrum bone, it rises through the centre of our body to pierce the fontanelle bone at the top of our head to enable us to take a first breath of a different kind. This awakened energy of transformation is known as Kundalini in the Eastern tradition, but the sensation of breeze that accompanies it is know by all the names for the breath of life we considered earlier in this article. One of the signs that this energy has been awakened is the experience of a breeze, often cool, felt like a gentle breath in the hands and above the top of the head. Like meditation itself, this is a topic for experience rather than discussion, but it is a remarkable coincidence that the breath of life we seek through our breathing exercises, is itself experienced as breath. When you follow the links to the guided meditation above, be aware of what you feel in your hands and in your body. You will see that there is more to discovering prana than what we take in and out of our lungs.

In the next article in this series, we will take a closer look at mindfulness and how meditation might be something we can do wherever we go, whatever we are doing.

By William Downey