Mahamudra and the Breath of Enlightenment

By Jim Leonard

The Buddhist concept of Mahamudra (Sanskrit for “the great gesture”) is a brilliant idea. Some people spend their entire lives studying it, so obviously there’s more to it than I can share in this brief article, but the basic idea is simple:

According to Buddhism, everybody is enlightened, but most people live as though they don’t know they’re enlightened. Mahamudra simply means, while you’re waiting to realize you’re enlightened, live as though you already know it.

It might be difficult to live enlightened all the time, but not so difficult to live enlightened for one moment — here’s how:

  1. Focus on the present moment. Give the moment your fullest attention and explore its details. To keep your mind from straying, focus on feeling your body.
  2. Regard the present moment as perfect. The present moment is the way it is whether you find fault with it or not. The enlightened attitude is to let go of negative judgment, stop comparing things to how you think they should be, and let the present moment be perfect— since it is.
  3. Relax about it. There’s no sense getting tense about what’s perfect.
  4. Acknowledge that although you cannot do anything about the present moment, you are always doing something anyway. The present moment simply is the way it is and you can’t do anything about it. Obviously you can do anything you want, but by the time you’ve done something, it’s no longer the same moment. However, part of what exists in the present moment is you, and you are doing something. You came into this world with energy, with momentum, and that momentum is carrying you forward even now.
  5. Breathe the Breath of Enlightenment. You have to breathe, and there are many different ways you can breathe. The Breath of Enlightenment means breathing in the way that best supports all the Elements of Enlightenment.

The Breath of Enlightenment is a continuous breath, with no pauses anywhere, so your consciousness is also continuous. It emphasizes the inhale, taking in the perfection of the moment. The exhale is completely relaxed — not controlled in any way — so your entire being can relax. To assist your concentration on the feelings in your body, imagine that each inhale enters your body through the sensation that is strongest at the moment. This enables you to draw the feeling into your awareness at the same time you draw the breath into your body.

These Five Elements of Enlightenment correspond to The Five Elements of Vivation, which I developed in 1979. Numbered in a different order, The Five Elements of Vivation are:

  1. Circular Breathing
  2. Complete Relaxation
  3. Awareness in Detail
  4. Integration into Ecstasy
  5. Do Whatever You Do — Willingness is Enough

Each of The Five Elements is a skill. You apply all Five Elements simultaneously, allowing your body to present you with the feeling-level awareness of whatever you have not been acting enlightened about. By applying The Five Elements you get a mini-enlightenment experience, called an “integration,” embracing some aspect of life that you had previously resisted, dropping a problematic behavior, and experiencing a creative breakthrough.

Vivation teachers lead students through experiential exercises to develop the students’ skill with each of The Five Elements. Then they lead them through a complete Vivation session, which results in many Integrations and a more harmonious, creative and heart-felt movement through life.

To understand the breathing, you must realize that the breathing itself is not what causes the result in Vivation; what causes the result is application of all Five Elements. The breathing, when used optimally, does not change the way you feel, it enables you to feel what you already feel in greater detail. The breathing doesn’t give you a better feeling than you already have, it connects you more consciously with the Ecstasy that is within you naturally in every moment. As you pass through sadness, rage, fear or pain, you experience Enlightenment in the midst of all of these feelings — you experience Ecstasy, unconditionally.

Why is the breathing so important? Your body is more than bone, blood and matter. The body is a dynamic energy system. The energy in your body moves in waves, just as everything in nature does. Many things affect the flow of energy in your body: what you eat, what you think, your environment. But the biggest factor is, by far, your breathing. Circular Breathing has the purpose of uniting your conscious mind with your unconscious, bringing your spirit into your body, making you aware of the play of creativity going on throughout your entire being all the time. It balances the energy in your body and highlights the areas where a resistance can be embraced.

Circular Breathing does this by sending high-amplitude, slow-frequency waves of energy through your body. Within a few minutes of starting Circular Breathing, you become more aware of your body as an energy system. Circular Breathing works together with the other Elements to empower you to embrace emotions you’ve been resisting, which have been limiting your enjoyment of life and your effective, creative action.

The waves of energy created by Circular Breathing produce a pleasurable pulsing through your body that soothes and relaxes your spirit at the same time it heightens your awareness. The breathing is sometimes slow, other times fast; sometimes full and other times shallow; you can do it in the upper part of the lungs or the lower, breathing through either nose or mouth. The continuity and connectedness of the breathing are essential, as is the complete relaxation of the exhale. All other factors are adjusted, depending on what’s happening in the Vivation session at the moment.

Breathing more fully sends higher amplitude waves through the body, resulting in greater intensity of sensation. If the feelings are not vivid enough to hold your attention, one thing you do is breathe more fully. But the goal is detailed awareness, not intensity — if the feelings are too intense you have less detailed awareness. When the feelings are more intense than you prefer, take smaller breaths.

Breathing faster speeds up the massaging pulses of energy moving through your body, enhancing your awareness of the dynamic dance of aliveness within the feeling you’re exploring. Some feelings are easier for people to embrace than others. When feelings come up that seem uncomfortable, you speed up the breathing. When you feel the energy dancing within the grief or pain, you will be able to embrace it easily. When bliss or other pleasant feelings are coming up, you breathe slowly, to drink in the delicious details of the feeling. This is what people do naturally. When standing on top of a mountain taking in the beautiful vista, people naturally breathe slowly and fully. When they stub their toe on a sofa they breath fast and shallowly.

You can focus your attention on a feeling in the upper part of your body more easily when you’re breathing in the upper part of your lungs. When the strongest feeling is in the lower part of your body, you can explore that more easily by breathing in the lower part of your lungs. If you simply remember to pull the breath in through the strongest feeling, you automatically place the breath correctly.

Whether to breathe in and out through the nose or in and out through the mouth is a matter of preference — whichever feels better is better. In Circular Breathing we never inhale through one and exhale through the other, because this breaks up the focused movement of energy through the body and diverts attention from the feeling that’s coming up.

With practice you can learn to play your breathing like an instrument, making beautiful internal music in concert with the feelings your body presents to you. Vivation is a beautiful, healing experience of rediscovering the divinity within yourself. After a few lessons, you’ll be able to do Vivation by yourself, whenever and wherever you wish, even while engaging in other activities.

Jim Leonard was the originator of the Vivation process. During his life he conducted more than 45,000 Vivation sessions in 22 countries.

For more information on Vivation or to experience it yourself, feel free to contact us on our toll-free number at 1-800-514-8483.

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