So much of our time, in our spiritual yearning, is spent reaching out to grasp at the coattails of the Divine or in voicing a multitude of litanous petitions to God, when what we really need to be doing is becoming internal to clear painful, past impressions, distracting narratives or stale footprints from the sands of our Being–by paying attention to the gift of our very own Spirit and breath.
The rhythmic cadence of our breathing, moment by moment, moves as surely as the waves of the tides do, sweeping away the clutter of ancient confusions to grant us fresh landscapes, across which we may choose to travel.
Kneeling next to a large recliner with her hand resting gently on the chair’s arm, “Nancy” (not the individual’s real name) invites a cardiac patient in respiratory distress to change his breathing pattern. The house is a familiar call. Two additional Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) are on Nancy’s heels setting up the equipment to deliver the required medical treatment.
During one of my CPR trainings, I learn about Nancy and her unusually calm demeanor from one of the instructors who also teaches EMT certification courses. As an EMT certifier, the instructor is required to complete several active-duty EMT shifts annually, which is how he has come to know and work with Nancy. If she is on duty, Nancy is the preferred first responder in situations where respiratory distress is involved. Her “uncanny ability” assists other EMT’s by granting them valuable time for the set up of critical-care equipment. As a professional meditation and yoga instructor, listening to what is described as Nancy’s almost “magical effect” in such circumstances, I note that Nancy is employing the use of a technique known as entrainment.
Entrainment is what happens when an individual gives up his or her own independent breathing pattern or rhythm, for a time, to accept the breathing pattern or rhythm of another individual or group. Entrainment is a formal pedagogical tool in some spiritual traditions. It is used primarily to ready an individual or group for receipt of a teaching, to grant an aspirant the opportunity to stand in another’s shoes, thereby, assisting in the teaching of compassion. Or, it may be employed to share experiences of certain emotional states (joy, freedom, calmness) or states of consciousness (forgiveness, surrender, unconditional love).
The most critical component behind the employment of entrainment is a sincere desire on the part of the lead breather, if you will, to serve selflessly.
The gauge on my physical vessel is on “E” as I park in front of a middle-of-nowhere gas station. There is a huge sign in front, advertising freshly made pizza.
“What to order…” my mind is moving ahead of my feet. Hunger disquiets my mind like almost nothing else. And, racing on an empty belly, takes me far and away from peaceful center. I march over to the food counter feeling like an edgy, empty creature.
A man in his early 20’s approaches me, “Do you know what you would like to order?”
Grabbing a tri-fold menu from the clear plastic dispenser on the wall, I look down and answer, “No. But, it has to be substantial in calories and interesting in terms of flavor.”
“If you will permit me,” he says gently and patiently, “I can make some recommendations based upon combinations that our regular customers enjoy.”
This sentence causes a thin and brittle rod of urban self-importance that has been buried inside of me to snap. My hunger suddenly does not seem that important. I take a breath to readjust, wanting to meet the kind offer of this man’s exceptional professional care.
Listening carefully as my maître d’ of gas-station-pizza pies proceeds to outline “his kitchen’s” most favored combinations, he and I become two souls bent over one of Napa Valley’s best wine lists or, perhaps, a most exclusive restaurant’s menu. It amazes me that he, through the tone of his voice, choice of words and the cadence of his descriptions can transport me—transport us—to a place without time inclusive of luxury and exclusivity. To receive this gift of his singular countenance all I need to do is to step back from my own conceit and allow him to play his professional role.
Going outside to be under the sun’s light while the pizza is baking, I wonder how many opportunities to enjoy another human being’s countenance I have missed because of an absent-minded push or assertion on my part, regarding “me” needs, “my” opinions or the social roles I thought I needed to play.
Thank you, pizza man, for your superior care and the gift of this teaching.