Pema Chodron often refers to “ripening” aspects of ourselves through practice: ripening breath, ripening gentleness, ripening precision, or ripening our ability to let go. It recalls a certain kind of freshness found in growth and acts as a kind of reminder that the end goal, or ripeness, isn’t nearly as important as the process itself. We are always in a kind of burgeoning fruition.
Her kind words on breath and meditation cycled through my mind this morning, particularly her comment that the moment “you label your thoughts ‘thinking’ is probably the key place in the technique where you cultivate gentleness, sympathy, and loving-kindness” (The Wisdom of No Escape). Which is to say, the moment that my attention slackens but then reawakens its focus on my breath is the moment for gentleness. Gaps become important sites for practice, then. And gaps might especially be important sites for practicing ahimsa, or non-violence, by building particular kinds of bridges between my thoughts, my practices, and myself.
Mostly the latter is a large question for me. As I stretched and pulled and twisted my body into certain postures this morning, I noticed the small gaps in breath that resulted. What does it mean to loosen the breath to allow it travel in spite of twists or stretches? What does it mean to let those gaps exist, to let go of the idea of a steady breath? How might I begin to learn from these gaps, especially in ahimsa?
I want to say that part of the learning process around gaps relates to Pema’s kinds of “ripening.” While certainly my breath will, at times, carry my limbs or expand my asanas, my breath will never achieve a constancy reminiscent of, say, a metronome. Rather it will ripen, expand, or contract to slide around body parts, organs, and muscular needs at a given moment. Similarly will my attention, or my sense of success and failure, or my ability to work hard…or any number of things related to ‘me’. The basic question is, how will I respond? What do I do with those gaps?