A return to True Sight and True Breath
The unexpected blessings of COVID-19 masks
The mythic proportions of COVID-19 across the world and yet, the highly personal changes it has mandated for each and every one of us, is yielding what I believe are some very specific pointers to where we can focus our spiritual enquiry. I talk about this in my blog ‘Ostara’s Crowning’, written when the full scale of the pandemic was yet to be realised.
With all inner enquiry, the key is to observe what’s happening around us with ‘symbolic sight’, that is, to rise up from the literal and obvious, and observe the thematic and the patterns. In this article I explore an interesting emerging pattern. The requirement to wear masks is pointing us towards two key spiritual and energetic functions of our system that we so easily take for granted – which, however, link us to the wider, more dazzling aspects of our systems.
The current happenings in the world have put a real emphasis on the spiritual importance of the breath. COVID-19 attacks the lungs. The entire world is currently masked, reminding us of how much we take free, clear open breaths for granted. And while the world is suspended in the throes of recalibration, and the activities in main industries that contribute to atmospheric pollution have been suspended or slowed, our planet is measurably cleaning her atmosphere.
In Singapore, we are in the steamiest part of the year. Humidity is very high, which makes wearing masks when out and about a very uncomfortable experience. The awareness is drawn to each and every breath and the ache for a free, deep fresh breath is palpable. Coming home and peeling off the mask, my body is taking in deeper, more nourishing breaths as if they were the first breaths it has ever taken.
This renewed relishing of free breath for all of us is generally, highly significant. Why? Because the breath, when worked with consciously, is one of our key spiritual superpowers.
The activity of the breath is directly linked to the activity of the nervous system. When we are not in the present, and our minds are either projecting forward into possible future scenarios, or cycling back over past events, we tend to take thoracic breaths. Thoracic breathing only utilizes 20% of our lung capacity and when under high stress or threat, many of us tend to hold our breath. This shortening and suspension of breath deprives the body and brain of vital oxygen and life force, and interrupts the connection between the nerve impulses generated by the breath to balance the brain and nervous system activity. The ancient Vedic practices of Pranayama (Prana meaning vital life force; Yama meaning breath), and the current trendy versions like Wim Hof’s breathing method for example, all work with these connections that are inherent in our design.
The breath is the only function of the autonomic nervous system that we can control. Placing our full concentrated awareness on the act of breathing is called ‘mindful breathing’. Mindful breathing naturally produces deeper inhalations and longer exhalations. Breathing is one of the physical body’s most important detoxification systems and mindful breathing is our subtle body’s most important clearing and energy raising systems.
When we breathe mindfully and with various breath-techniques (Pranayama) we are able to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. Autonomic activities such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestive activity and the flight or fight response are calmed and soothed. The body’s systems start to synchronize and work in flow. MRI scans during mindful breathing show calming of the amygdala which is responsible for anger/stress arousal.
With regular meditation, the amygdala is shown to actually shrink as a calm state becomes the default. With regular mindful breathing, the brainwaves shift from Beta waves, to Alpha and eventually Theta waves. This means that the brain calms frenetic thought activity and enters a state similar to a deep dreamless sleep, although the meditator is awake and acutely aware. Alpha coherence is more predominant in the right hemisphere of the brain allowing the experience of timelessness, visioning and interconnectedness.
For this reason, all of my meditation courses – the introductory course and fortnightly drop-in via Zoom- include instruction and guided meditations in Pranayama or meditative breathing techniques. They can be powerful meditations on their own, or fabulous pre-meditation practices to settle the awareness into presence and readiness for other practices such as mantra, mudra, contemplative or creative meditations for example.
Having lived all over the world, I have come to see that different cultures have different approaches to smiling. When we moved to Asia six years ago, I learnt very quickly that a ‘smile first’ strategy was best employed. In my observation, people generally don’t smile first here. However when you beam a smile in acknowledgment as you pass people, you are greeted with beaming smiles back. If you’re into those moments of human connection as you pass people in the street or nature trails like I am, it’s a ‘smile first’ game in Singapore.
Now with masks as mandatory apparel when out and about, I have realised how much I relied on reading someone’s full face to communicate and gauge the response. I have also realised that I had become somewhat lazy with my smiles, relying on my lips to convey the connection, rather than the smile reaching my eyes. With my lips concealed, my smiles also were, and instead of beautiful smiles being returned, I was seeing wary and stressed looks.
I have made it my daily mindfulness practice to allow my smile to beam from my eyes…and I have also brought back the wink and meaningful blink. It’s incredible, the response of relief, recognition and meaningful eye gazes being returned. Through focussing on communication through my eyes, I have tapped a sense of solidarity as we all get on with flattening the curve and being in this experience together; a new, silent and powerful form of connection.
So much is communicated through the eyes, when we give them full access to the soul. And just as the COVID-19 masks have raised a refocus on the true breath, they have also raised a refocus on true sight. Is it possible that we are also being invited to ‘see’ the world, our human race, ourselves, and our lives as if we are seeing them for the first time?
As well as the social responsibility of vastly reducing local spread, masks mean greater silence – a window to observe, to listen, to feel and to lean into the miracle of sight, and in particular, perception.
What are we seeing around us and how are we allowing it to affect us? Are we seeing restriction, denied freedoms, doom, and conspiracies? Yes, these elements are in the mix. But equally present are new opportunities, a pause to change habits, to return to dreams and passions, to creatively express, to deepen relationships with family, to give and love unconditionally, to forgive, to cultivate altruism, to tap new and inspiring content, to reconnect with the planet and the wild.
We can choose what we ‘see’, buy-into, feed with our awareness, and dwell upon. It doesn’t mean denial of what’s there, it means balancing our field of ‘sight’ and therefore our emotional responses…and these emanations vastly affect our life experiences. Are you perceiving your COVID-19-cup experience as half empty or half full?
In Yogic philosophy, the outer and inner senses are expressions along one pole of the senses. That is, our inner sight or clairvoyance, dreaming, creative visualisation, is an expression of our wholesale sense of sight, just as our mechanical ‘external’ sight is. They are aspects of one field – true sight. So when we focus on one end of the pole and engage in practices that improve and strengthen it, we raise the whole pole.
This is the deeper, lesser-known result of meditations that focus on eyesight like Trataka, Mirror-gazing, Sun-gazing, Yantra gazing, Shambhavi mudra, just to name a few. These powerful practices are all proven to improve physical eyesight, yet they are also engaged to sharpen inner sight, and inner sight is key to spiritual living.
Seeing life through the eyes of the soul means living intuitively, seeing things as they are without the muddy lens of reactive patterns, assumed meaning and judgements. With spiritual sight we are able to identify the synchronous patterns of meaning within our life experience and to work with them directly for spiritual expansion. A well-honed inner sight opens us up to our abilities of creative visualisation, or dream weaving, and shamanic journeying as powerful tools for divination, deeper enquiry and conscious creation.
In my upcoming online course Discovery, instruction and guidance are given in several of these practices to enable deep introspection and a new perception of self and life. You may subscribe to learn more.
Given, the masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future, perhaps it’s a good time to engage with them slightly differently from a higher viewpoint, and actively respond to the invitation to return to True Breath and True Sight.
If you wish to start mindful breathing and meditation and understand the benefits of meditating regularly do get in touch and take our introduction to meditation course, ‘Return’. You can also visit our website to explore courses and useful content to guide you along your journey to healing, self-discovery and mindful living.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to share it, I request that you please credit Danielle Van de Velde as the author. I do not authorise repurposing or republishing without my written permission. You may email me for the same.