One-Breath Meditation

Gary Snyder ’51 begins his essay, Just One Breath: The Practice of Poetry and Meditation (Tricycle, Fall 1991) with a straightforward teaching:

In this world of onrushing events the act of meditation — even just a “one-breath” meditation — straightening the back, clearing the mind for a moment — is a refreshing island in the stream.

What is this “meditation” that even one moment is good? Snyder says,

… it is a simple and plain activity. Attention: deliberate stillness and silence.

Even one moment is a “refreshing island.”

This is so important to remember. So often we set ourselves up for disappointment by saying, “Hey, this meditation stuff is really good! I like it so much that I promise to meditate 30 minutes every morning (or every Tuesday at lunch).” That isn’t so bad, unless, as is so often the case, reality fails to keep pace with aspiration. At that point our vow, “I promise…”, becomes one more thing to beat ourselves up with, and we may just give up altogether.

Aspirations are fine, but there is nothing gained in punishing yourself.

Snyder doesn’t talk about promises, or in keeping track of the number of moments you devote to meditation. Every moment is available to you, regardless of the moments that have slipped by, or the moments yet to come. Right now – straighten your back, breathe, experience. Ah!

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