It's an automatic process, of course: the exchange of gases within the spongy sacs that fill our thoraxes, the gentle rhythmic pull of the diaphragm, drawing air in, expelling the voided gas. Did you know, however, that with any given breath or exhalation, you only expel, on average, about 10-15% of the used up stuff? Athletes do a bit more, but not much.
Yet when was the last time you really, really focused on the act of breathing, or noticed it? There are days when the air really is like wine, a intoxicating heady rush, eager to fill your lungs; there are times when air blasts through you, cleaning you out - I once experienced this in spectacular fashion, while climbing Carnedd Dafydd, and I encountered a sudden updraught of pure, stromg cold air that didn't just clean my sinuses, it seemed to fill me with an wild, cold fire, and I felt I could have run for hours and hours; then there are days when the atmosphere is laden with perfume from honeysuckle and jasmine and late flowering trees and all is a lavish, luxurious drug of drowsiness. And still we breathe.
Yet when do you focus on the act of breathing itself? Try it: close your eyes, and carefully count the breath in, the breath out, diastole, systole. Feel the air moving through your nasal passageways, in, then out: sense how it feels against the mouth, the throat, the nose, the lungs. Feel your chest rising and falling, then become aware of how your pulse has slowed, and how much slower you are, all of a sudden, breathing. Now, if you're brave enough, stop counting the breaths, and let them flow, and now watch the show inside your head of your thoughts rising and falling, vying with each other to be heard, some gentle, some strident, all needy.
I must admit at this point that I've stolen this idea from Marcus' journal. The act of counting your breath, that is. And what I've found is remarkable. As I seek to focus on the breathing, suddenly I become aware of tens, hundreds of voices, all striving to be heard over the bell-toll of my counting my breaths, or the magisterial silence as I try to let even counting go. And eaach voice is a bit of me, all parts of me articulating worries, fears, anxieties, boasts, terror. Yet while I'm in counting mode, I can look at all this shouting audience and understand, REALLY understand, how trivial or important something is, and get it done if necessary.