Rabbi Alan Lew z Softening the Breath

This 14 minute talk is rich with instructions about bringing mindfulness to each part of the breath, the sensations arising in the body and the sounds arising in your awareness. Recorded at the Elat Chayyim Advanced Meditation Program during the summer of 2007, these instructions are a wonderful way to re-energize your mindfulness or meditation practice.

From the talk…

Following the breath

God creates human beings by breathing into their nostrils.

According to Rebbe Nachman, the meaning of this is that the breath is not only our connection to God, but our connection to the realm of God: that part of our experience that is deeper than language, deeper than speech, deeper than form.

…it’s the belly that senses this primal reality that is deeper than speech, deeper than form, deeper than thought.

The breath wants the belly. Our effort is not to push it down there, not to control it, but to just let it have it’s way. To just get out of the way and let the breath go all the way down.

All the way down

We follow the breath as it comes in the nostrils, we watch it go down the throat and down the breathing tube and all the way to the pit of the belly. And we pay close attention to that wonderful subtle moment when the inhale becomes an exhale.

Back up, into the moment of faith

Then we follow it up the belly, up the breathing tube, through the throat, and out through the nostrils again. And then we really pay attention, in this moment of faith, this moment of emunah that occurs every time we breathe – every moment of our life.

…The breath leaves the body and there’s no guarantee (and nothing we can do) to make it come back. It comes back on its own accord, by the will of God. A kind of moment of yeriyah, a moment of fear, a moment of awe.

And back down

…and we follow it again. Down the throat, down the breathing tube, then down the belly…

Responding to pain

Softening the breath

If we feel pain of some kind, instead of trying to push it away, instead of trying to resist it… …instead of tensing the muscles of our body just soften the breath.

When we soften the breath, the body becomes softer. When the body becomes softer it offers less resistance to whatever we’re feeling and whatever we’re feeling has a chance to arise and express itself without being locked in by the hardness of the body.

So we breathe soft. And the harder our reality gets the softer we breathe. And we follow this soft breath, that primal realm deeper than language and form and thought.

Listening to Reality

A wonderful exercise that Rebbe Nachman suggests is when we hear a sound and we realize that we’ve heard a sound…

Hear the primal essential nature of sound

When we notice that a sound has come into our mind and into our awareness we breathe very softly into that sound and when we breathe out we let go of the word of that sound and we just hear it in its primal essential nature. Just as sound.

We don’t say bird. We forget it’s a bird, we just hear the sound. We don’t say heating system, we just listen to that low primal hum. We don’t say somebody fidgeting, we just attend to those sharp little sounds that they make.

We just hear the thing itself not the word for the thing. And in doing so we open ourselves to the primal speech of God, not the words or the meaning that we give to the world, but the primal reality of being.


4 Responses to “Softening the Breath”

  1. Fanny Says:

    Thank you honey. Good when life is very stressful.

  2. Daniel Schafler Says:

    Dear Rabbi Lew has passed from this world.The moment came when his breath did not return, yet here we have a moment with him; a very special moment. Thanks for sharing this with us all.

  3. Laura Hegfield Says:

    Sitting, breathing, being present to Rabbi Lew’s voice, knowing his breath now continues through each of us in the collective nishmat chayim we all share, feels like a healing wind passing though me. I am filled with gratitude.

  4. Anna Satenstein Says:

    I am so very grateful to hear both the voice of Rabbi Lew and the “Primal speech of God” that Rabbi Lew shares in the Living Torah of these recordings, his books and teachings.

    Daniel and Laura, your words too are a blessing, honoring Rabbi Lew and the primal reality of being that is human life and death, and the breath of God.

    Thank you.