We DID Christmas in my family. We did it BIG. The tree, the gifts, the Christmas carols, the eggnog, mom's turkey croquettes. We did it even though my parents didn't really give a hoot about religion. I knew they didn't. We were the go-to-church-once-a-year family. Christmas was all about the rituals, not the heart and soul.
My dad and my brother have since passed, and those Christmases are no more. That's actually kind of cool; I now get to choose what I want this holiday to be for me.
Which got me to think about breathing. Yes, breathing.
Bear with me here.
Learning about breath came upon me early.
I did it in Acting Class when I went to George Washington University and studied to be an actor. I did it with my voice teacher, the venerable Joy Mclean Bosfield from the original cast of “Porgy and Bess.” I did it when I figured out my rhythms as a lap swimmer. And I did it when I took my first yoga classes in the basement of a church in Washington, DC, steps from the Capitol, long before yoga became fashionable in the West.
Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours.”Swedish proverb
But the person who really got me to understand the power of breath in a different way was Eric Butterworth, a man of the church.
Eric Butterworth is one of the giants of spiritual thought in the 20th century. When I found Eric in the 1990s in Manhattan, he had been a Unity minister for over 50 years. By then well into his eighties, Eric and his wife Olga held a service every Sunday at Lincoln Center’s majestic Avery Fisher Hall.
Eric championed a practical sort of mysticism. “As you inhale,” Eric suggested, “say to yourself ‘God is.’ As you exhale, ‘I am.’”
God is/I am; God is/I am. God is/I am.
So simple. I call this magnified breath my "Eric breath."
Breathe down deep. Say it quietly. Repeat the words on each breath.
If you're an agnostic or simply allergic to the word God, no worries. Substitute God with another word that represents a positive universal force for you: Peace, Energy, Love.
Eric’s mantra is identical to the well-known Sanskrit mantra So hum that first appeared in Sanskrit literature in the medieval period. “I am that. I am the force behind everything. I am one with the divine.”
While I repeat the mantra, my breath and the mantra quickly become one. I am breathing the mantra, the mantra breathes me. Its simple words carry an extraordinary energy. Prana (i.e. life force) activates.
I tend to be an instant gratification guy. Here's the beauty of the magnified breath: It shifts my energy. Instantly. Every time.
I do my Eric breaths in the middle of the night, when I cannot fall asleep. I do them in a crowded room, when the social energy feels frenetic. I do them in a meeting when a conversation is getting on my nerves.
Fred Tan is a VP with Goldman Sachs Wealth Management in South Florida AND a seasoned meditation teacher. Fred’s describes his experiences of breath as follows:
My meditation and my breathing get to the point where I become so relaxed that my breathing pattern alters. I am fully aware of being still, and I lose complete awareness of my body. My entire awareness rests in the cave of my heart. My mind forgets that it exists. This is my state of liberation. And I experience great peace.
Here's my hope for you and me and all of us. Amid the busyness of the impending holiday week, the feelings it is likely to invoke, the pressures we may feel – let us find a bit of liberation.
It begins with stillness. An attention to breath. And a willingness to let things be.
Warm wishes for a peaceful and blessed holiday season.