When my older son was on the brink of leaving toddlerhood, he still preferred that we stay with him until he fell asleep. It could be frustrating at times, when tucking-in seemed to go on and on, and I felt that it was time for me to either relax, or get some other things done. I came up with a technique which seemed to alleviate some of the stress, and somehow, the technique seemed to hasten my son’s sleep. I would simply count my breaths up to 21, three times. Over the course of 63 breaths, my breathing would become slower. Often I would get into a pretty nice state of concentration, and sufficient time would pass to allow my son to sleep. I didn’t have proof, but I was fairly convinced that it was not only the time passing, but my state of concentrated repose that also helped him sleep.

Since then, we had a second boy, six years younger than my first son. One day when I found myself doing a similar tuck-in routine, I remembered my 63 breaths. I didn’t use it all the time, but when I did, it still had its magic most of the time.  A few months later I became especially inspired by two Buddhist teachings I had heard while driving home from work, and in particular, how these teachings interact: abiding in the present moment and impermanence. The concept that best helped me grasp the present moment idea was that, often we are leaning forward, out of the present moment, toward some desired future. This is exactly what I was doing when I would get frustrated that my child was not asleep yet. And when I really started grasping this, I realized that even in the breathing, even when my breathing slowed way down, I could still catch my consciousness leaning toward 63. I had plans for the moment after 63.

And so on that night, I stopped counting, and every time I noticed the lean, I smiled at it and relaxed into the moment. And this is where the teaching on impermanence started to apply. I noticed that every several breaths or so, my son would shift a little bit, always staying in contact with me in some way, and I was overwhelmed by the sweetness and fleeting nature of what was happening. The shifting began and passed, and the time between shifting grew longer; and of course, he fell to sleep. And of course, one day, I won’t lie next to him while he falls to sleep.

The mind could easily see this as a new predicament- it’s so easy to get caught up in those things that will fade, which is all of them- so it becomes important to remember those things that are here, and the potential for those that may arise. Holding all three in a gentle balance gives us the best shot at the behavior we would like to express. Choose just one and the result could be clinging to the past, complacency in the present or greed for the future. It’s ok that it’s not so easy. It took me thousands of breaths and hours of teachings to come to this one small insight, the strength of which varies by the moment. Have a smile, be generous to each other, cultivate good will; these things make the work a little more fun for us and the people around us.

2 thoughts on “63 Breaths

  1. Hi Mark
    I discovered your 7 factors of awakening meditation on insighttimer app and think its great, definitely one of my favourites and have just read your 63 breaths blog;
    It inspired me to say thanks and more so to reflect on my tendency to lean forward into the future. I also became aware of my keeness to move ahead out of the present moment and lose all the beauty of this moment; clearly a challenge that is ongoing for many of us!
    I’m going to spend a bit more time with my daughters tonight trying to be more attentive to the here and now……
    Incorporating that teaching with the 7 factors of awakening can, I imagine, have some profound effects.
    Thanks again and keep the good work up.
    Best wishes Wayne (Chester UK)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Wayne,
      Your taking time out to give me feedback on my recording and writing means a lot to me- it was the first thing I read this morning, so I’m off to a great start. It’s funny, reflecting on 63 Breaths, because of course, not every night looks like that for me, but it’s good that we are out there making an effort; our kids will certainly appreciate it.
      I don’t turn out material very quickly, but knowing that people are out there getting some value from it is inspiring. Feel free to correspond again with other dharma topics- I do enjoy discussing them.
      Many Thanks,
      Mark

      Like

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