Bandwidth and the Breath
the Oldest Psychotechnology in the Book
**Breathing in, my in-breath has become deep.****Breathing out, my out-breath has become slow. ****Deep.****Slow.****Enjoy.**
from “Calm - Ease,” a Guided Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s by no means a technique exclusive to Thich Nhat Hanh, but it is certain that he had a signature way of talking about and using the breath for the attainment of Sati सति (often translated as “Awareness” or “Mindfulness”). One of Thay’s most dominant psychotechniques is a Zen method called a Gatha, or “Breath-Poem.” (Example above.) Internally stating certain verbiage on the in-breath, and complementary verbiage on the out-breath, the gatha is an opportunity to lock the conscious mind into the physical phenomenon of the breath. As Andrew Weil points out, the breath is one of the involuntary functions which can also be controlled voluntarily, and elongating your breath can send beneficial, non-lingual messaging to your autonomic nervous system.
More, when Thay speaks of the breath, he treats it in such a way that suggests that the Holy Spirit is present.
Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life. There are those of us who are alive but don’t know it. But when you breathe in, and you are aware of your in-breath, you touch the miracle of being alive. That is why mindfulness is a source of happiness and joy. — Thich Nhat Hanh
Indeed, it is. And, knowing this, the breath can help us to do miraculous things. I would like to share how this affects me on a day to day basis to help with the stresses of daily life.
One of the things my therapist has gotten me to think about is the concept of “Bandwidth.” Simply put, this is the amount of access I have to higher cognitive function. The topic comes up because, when I first began to see him, bandwidth came at a premium for me due to some emotional turmoil I was experiencing. Because I was hitting snags (residue and faulty programming from traumatic childhood experiences) my nervous system was reacting in such a way so as to more or less suck the life out of my meta-cognition, and some of the more complex tasks (especially at work) were entirely unmanageable for me.
This was an issue. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that “Aha! Deep Breathing Solved All My Problems!!!,” but I am going to say that the Breath has become more than a tool in my arsenal — it has become a sort of existential method.
Lemme tell you what I mean. I have gone through a good amount of Cognitive, Dialectical and Rational Emotive therapy to re-learn what it “means” to have the job that I have. (I could try to get into that here — but it’s frankly another post.) Suffice to say, I have ways of thinking about my job that give me a sense of meaning, purpose, and value, which connect me to the work and bring a sense of complete and entire fulfillment when I am in the moment.
But sometimes it’s hard to be in the moment. I’m getting IMs from not three but FOUR different people at once, and I have three email tabs open to bounce between threads to try to research the data I need to solve this problem, not to mention windows for the various programs I need to consult to acquire relevant data. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on that other thing that I need to finish up ASAP!
This is when Mindful Breathing kicks in.
Breathing In, I Know That I Am Breathing In.Breathing Out, I Know That I Am Breathing Out.
If it sounds like I’m suddenly more present, a little less addled, and somewhat more aware of just what it is that is happening — you’re right.
But it’s more than that.
Breathing In, I take in all of the information spiraling out of control around me.
Breathing Out, I center myself and focus on the most important thing in this moment.
The gatha is helping my over-stimulated mind conserve and judiciously apply its bandwidth. I can’t control the fate of the company. Whether or not we’re managing efficiently is a task too big for one man. How this employee has chosen to phrase their frustrated expression is outside of my ken. My paygrade does not equip me for solving the delectable smorgasbord of capers and shenanigans.
My breath, the Breath of Life, however, equips me for this here now. This is an opportunity to act in a way that is filled with the significance of the causes and conditions which brought me to this moment. This is an opportunity to act in a way that is filled with the significance of the reactions which will respond to this action as condition and cause.
As they say where I’m from: “That’s What It Is I’m Talking About!” Now I can suddenly perform, even (possibly) well. Restored, I’m ready for more.
🔥 I’m not finished! 🔥