The breath is a primary example of how we cannot control our happiness despite our best efforts. Our bodies breathe automatically, without contrivance, clinging, over-thinking. The air is freely given. We can only realize our dependence upon the air that surrounds us and surrender to the gratuity of air coming and going.

A rabbi taught this prayer to me many years ago. I write about it in the second chapter of my book The Naked Now. The Jews did not speak God’s name, but breathed it with an open mouth and throat: inhale–Yah; exhale–weh. By our very breathing we are speaking the name of God. This makes it our first and our last word as we enter and leave the world.

Breathe the syllables with open mouth and lips, relaxed tongue:

Inhale–Yah

Exhale–weh

During a period of meditation, perhaps twenty minutes, use this breath as a touchstone. Begin by connecting with your intention, your desire to be present to God. Breathe naturally, slowly, and deeply, inhaling and exhaling Yah-weh. Let your focus on the syllables soften and fall away into silence. If a thought, emotion, or sensation arises, observe but don’t latch on to it. Simply return to breathing Yah-weh.

You may be distracted numerous times. And perhaps your entire practice will be full of sensations clamoring for attention. Contemplation is truly an exercise in humility! But each interruption is yet another opportunity to return to Presence.

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