Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Discipline of Breathing

"A Holy Place"
-In Front of the Desert Retreat House-

I walk out my front door and I am in an incredibly beautiful desert - living here is such a gift.

Right in front of my house there is one particular place that holds a special significance for me. It always feels like such a "Holy Place," when in the mystical glow of a December dusk, a little desert sage bush stands out in the wilderness terrain and seems to glow just as the sun goes behind the mountain.

Whenever I see that glowing desert sage bush, I inevitably call to mind the story in the Hebrew Scriptures about "Moses and the burning bush."

In the wilderness, Moses climbs the holy mountain seeking God. He comes upon a bush blazing with the intensity of fiery love - alive with a Holy Presence. Moses encounters the God whom he has sought, and he asks if God has a name. 

He is told that God's name is YAHWEH. 

Many people hear this story and think that Yahweh is actually a real name (call me Mr. Yahweh), but this story and this name are far more subtle. In Hebrew, the word "Yahweh" actually has no clear translation. At best, "Yahweh" might be translated as "I am who I am" or even better, "I am Being" or maybe even "I am that which is at the heart of all being-I am flaming unquenchable, unnamed and untamed love - alive at the core of everything that is."

Yesterday I came upon a very powerful insight into what "Yahweh" means. Yahweh is the sound of breath - Yahweh is the sound of breathing.  In every breath we take, we breathe in YAH, and we breathe out WEH. 

On the day of our birth in the first breath we take, we breathe in YAH.   On the day of our death, in our very last breath, we breathe out WEH; and in every breath we take from the day we are born until the day we die, we are breathing in and breathing out "God." 


It's not at all surprising that breathing and breath should occupy such an important focus in most religious traditions and spiritual paths.  The Hebrew Scriptures refer to "God" as "ruah" -  breath. God is the breath of life - the source of life, the sustaining power of life.

 Likewise in the Christian Scriptures, the Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles and is manifested as rushing wind- the breath of God. 

The focus on breathing is a central discipline in mindful meditation in Buddhism and other Eastern religious traditions.

These busier than usual days of holiday preparation and celebration seem to me to be a perfect time for stillness and for focusing on breathing.

I breath all the time. Every moment of every day I breathe in YAH and breathe out WEH.  However, like every other human being, I take my breathing for granted - breathing is built into our human condition. If we don't breath we die, so we breathe automatically without focus or attention or awareness. We take breathing for granted. 

It is another glorious, crisp December morning with the sun rising to begin a new desert day; and as usual,  I sit in my meditation garden. It is just daybreak and most people are not up yet - no sounds in the distance, the stillness is intensely beautiful, and I focus on my breathing. I breathe in and I breathe out. 

I breathe in YAH - I breathe in everything that is.  I breathe in the desert and the mountains, the birds, the bushes, the trees, the flowers. I breathe in all those people who are soon to rise from their slumber and begin their day anew.  I breathe in people who are nearby and I breathe in those in distant lands, all of us bound together by the common breath of "God," breathing in and through us all, encompassing everything that is in the "Burning Bush" of fiery love. 

Then I breathe it all out WEH.  I breathe what is in me out onto the whole of creation- out onto and into all that is. 

I breathe in and I breathe out - I breathe "God." 

YAHWEH - my first breath and my last breath.

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  1. Wow, what a beautiful way to think about and experience a spiritual connection with the world and the creator of all the magic around us. Thank you for the vision.

  2. Robert, I so appreciate your comment.

  3. This is great, thank you for posting this. It is so kind to admire the connection between all of us and not just handle people by their religion. And I really enjoy your view on breathing.