The Full Awareness of Breathing

Once, in the thick of stress and transition (divorce), I had the idea to pretend I was on a meditation retreat. It was 1am, I'd worked a 15-hour day, and I was bleary-eyed from staring at a screen for too long. I imagined sitting and breathing in a beautiful zendo, surrounded by acres of quiet forest, and fantasized about how grounded and relaxed I would feel. Then, I imagined what it might take to bring a little bit of that calm, centered energy to my present experience.

Basic meditation instructions often center on the breath. You're taught to notice the breath, to follow it, to return the attention to it when you find yourself getting hooked on a wild, discursive train of thought. In that burned out, grumpy moment, in a tiny house in the city, with my then-husband sleeping on a pull-out bed in the den, I had the kooky idea to make photographs about coming back to the breath. What would that even look like? I desperately needed to relax, so I started looking around for scenes that expressed expansiveness, airiness. I leaned out my bathroom window and photographed the moon with a strand of my neighbor's twinkle lights. I took a slow, deep breath of cool night air. The next morning, I took a break and lay down in a beam of sunlight, felt the warmth on my skin, calmed my breathing, and made a second image. 

These images represent two years of coming back to the breath. Each one is a little meditation, a little moment when I slowed down and remembered to breathe. I like to think of the series as an interpretive illustration of the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing (Anapanasati Sutta). It’s a very simple, accessible Buddhist sutra about coming back to the breath, feeling a sense of calm and joy, and returning to the present.