September 21, 2019

As I said yesterday, I often wear earplugs or other hearing protection as I go about my daily business. I often leave them in during meditation. A side effect of doing this is that it’s easier to hear my blood.

When I was a child, I heard that the sound inside a conch shell was the sound of your blood flowing through your ears. Apparently that’s not true. It’s not entirely clear what it is; perhaps the amplification of otherwise imperceptible noises.

But there are times that you can hear your blood, or at least you can hear your heart pumping, and this is easier with earplugs. The reason I mention this is because I’ve always been a bit bored by the breath as a meditation object. If you have ever been taught to meditate, it’s quite likely you were told to pay attention to your breath. But why the breath? Why not the beating of your heart, or the sensations of the hairs on your head, or in the soles of your feet?

Others who have proposed the heartbeat as a meditation object, at least to Buddhists, have not received much encouragement. Though it looks like Sufism may be more open-minded.

I understand that the breath is partly used because it exists on the border between the voluntary and the involuntary. You can control it, but if you don’t pay attention, it happens automatically. Therefore it is seen as somehow lying on the border between the conscious and the subconscious. But I’ve gotten mileage out of testing whether my heartrate is under any control. Can the speed of controlled breathing influence it, for example?

I have also found other techniques, like Goenka’s “body scanning”, quite useful. Visualisations have helped me as well. I seem to be in the minority in not particularly liking the breath.

Bryan Kam

I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter, follow me on Mastodon, or see more here.