Lately I catch myself not breathing. Or breathing so softly, so tentatively, it is as if I am apologizing for being alive. Don't mind me, I'll try not to take up too much air.
I wonder why this is.
As a child I remember noticing how taking a deep breath sent tingles throughout my whole body. A deep inhale, the kind that fills belly and chest, would make the tips of my toes come alive and the roots of my hair shafts pulse. It was enlivening. Sometimes I lay in bed just breathing and feeling the energy of it send sparks throughout my body.
Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.
~Thich Nhat Hanh
We kids had a game we played in the car. It was to hold our breath while crossing bridges and overpasses. I guess the notion was that if the bridge collapsed and we fell in the water we'd already have air held in our lungs. Of course we didn't think of the reality that we'd probably lose the air before we hit the water. We lived in North Surrey, Birdland, right by the original Port Mann Bridge which spanned the Fraser River. It was really long. Holding your breath the entire way was a challenge.
We were clearly never really in danger. Unlike having the wind knocked out of you or a panicked moment in water seeking the surface with lungs bursting, the air was right there when we needed it. Still, that first lungful was like a quenching. As we would come around the bend on the Coquitlam side of the bridge, WHOOSH! Out went the held breath and in came the new. We were very dramatic about it, making sure everyone knew of our great endurance.
For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.
When the Great Energy of Love first created the world, humans were formed out of the soil of the earth. Creator animated the humans with breath, the first deep lungful that brought life. Ruach. The Breath of God.
Breath still keeps us alive. Sometimes in meditation, as I begin to settle, I use a prayer mantra that a friend taught me. "Inhaling, I breathe in God. Exhaling, God breathes in me. Inhaling, I breathe in God. Exhaling, God breathes in me." It connects me to that first moment of life, the moment of all possibility.
Breath is the foundation of meditation, yoga and energy healing, all of which I practice. Deepening and connecting to the breath deepens our connection to both body and Divine. Our internal Divine Spark, like an external flame, requires oxygen to burn brightly. Breathing fuels our fire. Breath grounds us. Breathing is a powerful spiritual practice all on it's own. And I know this. So what is stopping my breath?
"Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?"
~ Mary Oliver, Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?
I still love the feeling of the big breath that tingles my toes and hair. That is, when I am mindful to be with my breath. In those moments when I catch myself not breathing, I wonder if at some level I am denying God. And by God I mean Infinite Love, the Breath of Life, the Spark of the Divine that lives in and around me.
God's breath asks a lot of me. To live fully, with joy and with great love. Even when I'd rather just go unnoticed, just sit over here breathing quietly, pretending that the rest of the world doesn't pertain to me. Not withstanding that immediately after being animated, the first humans were put in charge of tending the garden and naming the animals.
Deep breath calls me to deep and bold life.
There is one way of breathing that is shameful and constricted. Then there's another way: a breath of love that takes you all the way to infinity.
I was in the midst of writing this reflection when we began hearing news of the heart-wrenching shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Fifty lives gone and that many again injured. Fear, violence, pain, sadness. Breath silenced. It's overwhelming. Events like this make me want to curl up in a ball, become as tiny as possible and breathe so softly that no one can hear me. But I know in my deepest self that this is a moment when we are called to stand up and scream. In these moments we are called to use our breath to let our anguish echo through the world. And when we have let that out, it is to take another deep breath and go out into that world to give our selves in love and service. Breathe deep and feel that tingling spur us to action.
I was called into ministry to offer healing in the midst of brokenness and to do that in a way that will, hopefully, reverberate outwards. As Christians, that deep breathing must include using our voices and our actions to demonstrate that God is Love and that our embrace includes all of God's people.
To breathe is to be called to the world. And really, this expectation from ruach, from the Breath of Life is worth it if, in return, I get to take that breath and feel myself alive, thanks be to God. Then I am called to use my breath and my life in service to the world.
Keep breathing, it's the most important part
we kick and then we glide. we kick and then we glide
it's all in the rhythm, it's all in the rhythm,
it's all in the rhythm of the heart
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