Friday, February 20, 2015

Deep Breaths

"Fresh Air"
- Springtime at the Desert Retreat House -

Apparently "road rage" is now becoming a growing phenomenon on the highways of Southern California, and so I guess I wasn't too surprised yesterday that a local NPR radio program offered some advice for how to deal with anger while driving your car. The program featured a prominent Los Angles psychiatrist who suggested that if you get cut off by another driver and you feel a surge of rage coming on, "take a few deep breaths and keep focused." 

I thought to myself how interesting it is that people who are stressed out are most always advised to take a few deep breaths in order to settle down. After all, concentrating on breath is a fundamental technique for all practices of mindfulness, yoga, meditation. Somehow deep breathing does indeed help to ground us. 

Of course there are plenty of physical explanations for why a strong dose of oxygen might help reduce stress. I also think that taking deep breaths has a very definite spiritual component, and so yesterday after listening to that road-rage program, I went into my files and listened again to a podcast of a TED talk I heard last year given by a prominent biologist:

Take a deep breath, the yogis had it right - breath does in fact connect us in a very literal way. Take a deep breath now and as you breathe, think about what is in your breath. There, perhaps is the carbon from the person sitting near you. Maybe there's a little bit of oxygen from some algae on a beach not far from you. The air we breath connects us all the time.

There may even be some carbon in your breath from the dinosaurs. There could also be carbon that you are now exhaling that will be in the breath of your great, great grandchildren.

I found this insight to be incredibly moving and profoundly wise. 

We breathe in and out every single moment of every single day and never even think about what we are doing. When in fact in every breath we take we are being connected to the cosmos - to everything and everyone who ever was, who is, and yet will be. 

I think that's why deep breaths ground us and settle us. A deep breath helps us find our place in the larger scope of things - each and every one of us is a tiny speck in the universe and yet so powerfully and wonderfully connected to it all. 

It is no wonder that the Hebrew scriptures often refer to "God" as "breath." The Christian scriptures, likewise refer to the Holy Spirit as the breath of God. The risen Christ is depicted as appearing to his disciples, breathing on them and saying: "Receive the Holy Spirit," - the spirit dwelling in and among us is in the very air we breathe. 

In every breath we take we breathe in "God" and then we breathe "God" back into it all. 

There is perhaps no more beautiful season than springtime in the desert. This morning when I walked into my garden to greet another day I could literally smell how fresh and pristine the air was - so full of life.  I took a few deep breaths and was almost moved to tears to think that I belonged to it all.  


  1. Thanks for the insight Paul. I've actually used deep breathing with a focusing on the sound of the air going in and going out to fall asleep. I had stubborn insomnia at one point and this deep breathing was easy to do and worked almost all the time in getting me to sleep.

  2. Just wanted you to know I keep in touch on your blog and it is important to me. I hope you continue to help us and follow you in our journey together. Bob

    1. Thanks so nice to hear from you. Come visit us in the desert