(from a letter to a friend)
I do feel that I have a way of waking up in the morning that works for me, and that might be something you could make use of.
There’s one piece of theory that’s very important to my practice, and that is the notion that the two respiratory systems of the body are reconciled by the place of occurrence of consciousness. By the two respiratory systems, I mean the pulmonary respiratory system (the respiration of the breath in the lungs) and the cranial-sacral respiratory system (the respiration of the volume of fluid in the sack that encloses the brain, the spinal cord, and the nerves that continue to the sacrum). The movement of breath is pretty easy to spot, but the changes in fluid volume of the cranial-sacral system are a little harder to notice; if you sit quietly and watch the movement of breath, you will notice that the body is constantly shifting ever-so-slightly with a particular rhythm, and that rhythm doesn’t particularly syncronize with either the movement of breath or the heart-beat.
The pulmonary respiration is a function of the movement of the diaphragm; the cranial-sacral respiration is a function of the movement of the bones on either side of the crown of the skull, because the nerves that control the volume of fluid in the cranial-sacral system are located along the center joint of the top of the skull and respond to changes in pressure along the joint. The research that John Upledger did at Michigan State suggests that the volume of fluid in the cranial-sacral system increases and decreases about 14 times a minute, and that the structure of the body flexes and extends along the center line, or rotates inward and outward at the periphery, as the volume of fluid changes.
When I say that the two respiratory systems are reconciled by the place of occurrence of consciousness, I mean that the sense of location in the occurrence of consciousness serves to inform and coordinate the action of the two respiratory systems. Consciousness takes place in connection with the senses and the mind, and although we often only see the object of our sensory function and not the particular sense or senses involved, if we stop to look at our consciousness as it takes place we find we have a sense of location. Naturally, the sense of location shifts constantly as consciousness comes and goes with respect to both inner and outer stimulation.
Ok, that’s the theory, now here’s the application. Because the coordination of the two respiratoy systems is a function of the place of occurrence of consciousness, and the place of occurrence of consciousness shifts naturally in response to sensory contact and the needs of these two involuntary respiratory systems, it’s not possible to know in advance of the moment where attention needs to be to wake up. The placement of consciousness must be spontaneous for the two systems to coordinate properly, and the two systems must coordinate properly in order to wake up fully.
Waking up in the morning is actually the same as falling asleep at night; both depend on consciousness bringing the autonomic respiratory systems of the body into sync. Both depend on involuntary activity in the body (and mind) as a result of the place of occurrence of consciousness.
Here’s the practice that I find is synonymous with waking up: I relax the activity of the body at the place of occurrence of consciousness, as the breath moves in, and as the breath moves out. Wherever consciousness takes place, I relax the activity of the balance of the body there; then I extend the relaxation I feel toward the surface of the skin, and see where my consciousness goes. That’s how I wake up, and how I fall asleep.
Although the placement of consciousness must be spontaneous for the two involuntary respiratory systems to coordinate naturally, it may well be that a pattern will develop in the placement of consciousness for a period of time. Gautama the Buddha referred to the development of such a pattern as “the sign of the concentration”. Such a pattern unfolds of its own accord, and is never exactly the same twice. The key to accepting and relinquishing such a pattern is the feeling connected with its occurrence, and the knowledge that the pattern serves the cranial-sacral system’s response to the necessity of breath.
What do I mean by the cranial-sacral system’s response to the necessity of breath. First off, the movement of the diaphragm affects the shape of the lower spine profoundly, because the diaphragm is attached to the lower spine (at the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd lumbar vertebrae on the right, and at the 1st and 2nd lumbar vertebrae on the left). Likewise, the movement of the rib cage forward and upward in inhalation, and downward and rearward in exhalation profoundly affects the shape of the spine. The curve of the spine and the weight of the upper body puts a shearing stress on the fourth and fifth vertebrae of the lumbar spine, so that these vertebrae are pressured to slide forward out of alignment. The motion of the diaphragm and the rib cage must realize support at the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae in order for the activity of the body to relax, and the cranial-sacral system will key the occurrence of consciousness so that it leads the balance of the body and generates that support.
In particular, when we relax the activity of the body at the place of occurrence of consciousness, consciousness tends to sink to the waist. However, in order for consciousness to rest in the vicinity of the waist, it’s necessary to aim at a certain equanimity with respect to feeling at the place of occurrence of consciousness. Attachment to a pleasant feeling, aversion to a painful feeling, or ignorance of a neutral feeling can condition the next place of occurrence of consciousness. If we observe that the place of occurrence of consciousness is subject to conditioning based on feeling, we gain a certain equanimity, and that allows consciousness to function correctly with respect to the two respiratory systems.
The feeling when consciousness is loose but local and activity is relaxed is usually pleasant, and I don’t think we can help being attracted to things that give us ease and help us to wake up.
©2006 Mark A. Foote