I spent my youth in the hills of West Virginia. There, I was fortunate enough to experience the wonders of having a basement. If you hail from up north, you can probably relate. It served as many things, one of which was an underground playhouse. One of the games we used to play was “ghost hide and seek.” Basically, that meant we turned out the lights and played the game in complete darkness. I mean “can’t see your hand in front of your face” dark. This would certainly not pass any safety standards these days, but then again, at that time, none of us wore seat belts either.
I began thinking of this game this morning when I was observing my breath. I must admit, it was in church during the sermon, but what better place to be still and observe the breath! Anyway, this particular morning I was seeking a more relaxed breath and found myself comparing the effort to this game. Seeking the breath is kind of like seeking someone in the pitch dark. You keep wanting to use the eyes, squinting and straining to try to see into the darkness. However, the only way to approach this game is to stop seeking with your eyes, and to stand still and to listen. With statue-like stillness and a bit of patience, the person you are seeking eventually reveals himself through a subtle movement or even a breath, and they are suddenly found without any effort on your part.
In the same way, the more we seek the breath through our usual efforting, the harder it is to find. For the harder we try, the more the natural breath becomes like a shadow slipping away into the darkness. Rather, we must turn off the outer senses, much like turning out the lights, and become still, listening intently and waiting until the natural breath is revealed. We cannot hurry it. We cannot demand it. We must wait with a sense of surrender, of letting go.
So this morning in my pew, I relaxed my hands in my lap, turned my attention inward, and waited for the healing breath to reveal itself. On this cool and rainy morning, it was hidden from me, and no amount of seeking could find it. Only surrender. Aaah…there it is!