Consider the ocean. There are two ways to view it. It is composed of water, and that water forms waves: the one and the many. Each of the many waves in the ocean has its own, independent existence. A wave comes into being. It forms. It has a wavelength and other characteristics. It is real. However, its lifespan is short when compared to that of the ocean. In the ocean, many waves rise and fall, experiencing transient, brief lives. However, looking closer, one sees that each wave is made up of water. The drops of water in one wave continue to exist after that wave has passed on. Those drops become parts of new waves. The energy of the previous wave gives rise to the new waves, too.
In that way, the old wave - no longer its own discrete self - continues to exist in the substance and movement of the waves that have taken its place. Moreover, if we look back, the wave we are discussing came from the substance and movement of the waves that came before. There is a continuity that literally flows through the waves. This continuity - this flow - takes place on the tapestry of the ocean. The water in the ocean is constant compared to the waves that form on its surface. The wave that recognizes its existence as water - its water nature - transcends being and non-being, coming and going, birth and death.
It is the same in life. Matter and energy flow through each of us. Even though we perceive ourselves as discrete and apart from others and our environments, a little analysis and attention reveals the truth of the matter. We eat to add substance to our bodies and to get energy. We drink to hydrate ourselves. We eliminate wastes and, in so doing, we return matter and water to our environment. Matter and water flow through us. Our feelings, perceptions, and thoughts change, too. We are constantly changing, even if, at first glance, we seem to look the same from moment-to-moment. Most cells in your body die within days, and your body is characterized by a constant process of recycling and regeneration. The components that make up your body - like the waves in the ocean - are constantly dying and experiencing rebirth, even while your body, as a whole, remains relatively constant.
This is no more evident than with the breath. With each inhalation, we take in gas from the atmosphere. With each exhalation, we expel gas into the atmosphere. The content of our inhalations and our exhalations is mostly nitrogen, with some oxygen, as well as small amounts of carbon dioxide and trace elements. When we breathe out, it’s mostly the same as when we breathe in, just with a little less oxygen and a little more carbon dioxide. In this way, air is a matrix that connects us. As others in the room exhale, we inhale some of what they exhaled. Air is like glue, connecting us. From a meditator’s point of view, the breath is like a focusing lens, through which stillness can be cultivated and through which this interconnection can be sensed.
In the ocean, the waves represent samsara - relative reality - where things are seen as separate. The water represents nirvana - ultimate reality - where the interbeing of all things can be glimpsed and understood. Both nirvana and samsara - separation and interconnection - accurately describe reality, just from different perspectives; the concepts interrelate themselves. I am both a discrete biological entity and an evolving nexus and flux of matter and energy, caused by past conditions and the cause of future ones.
Bring your attention to your breath, either in your torso as it rises and falls, or at your nostrils, where you can feel air going in and out. Notice the rhythmic, wave-like nature of the breath. In, out. Over and over, again and again. Your attention has rhythm, too. You focus; you get distracted. Over and over, again and again. Be gentle with yourself; that is the nature of mind. When you are able to, notice how your breath flows through your body. Feel the rhythmic waves of the breath. Let your mind ride on the sensations of breathing as if the breath is the surf in the ocean and your attention is a surf board.
Allow this fundamental rhythm - the waves of your breath - to point naturally to the ultimate reality underlying the conventional reality we are accustomed to perceiving. Allow the rhythmic waves of the breath to direct your attention to the flux of life and your own existence and the interconnection and oneness we share with all things.
Here it is on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/claymcleod1969/breath-surfing
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
- Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn