Thursday, July 9, 2015

Holy Wind

"The Breath of Creation"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

In my reading yesterday I came across the ancient Navajo word for “breath”- “Holy Wind.” A more full rendering of this definition is: “The wind of creation that pervades the cosmos.”

It struck me how one little word can contain an entire worldview. For the Navajo people breathing is so much more than taking air into the lungs and expelling it back out into the atmosphere—a simple breath is an act of inhaling the entire cosmos and breathing is a holy act.  Breath is “Holy Wind.”

On the surface, this idea of breath as “Holy Wind” may sound far too poetic, some kind of “new-age mumbo jumbo” for a person who is more scientifically rigorous.  Yet, after a conversation with my scientist-son yesterday, I realized that thinking of the air we breathe as “the wind of creation that pervades the cosmos” is not actually so “new-age” after all.  In fact this definition of breath may indeed be rather consistent with what contemporary scientists have discovered about the nature of the atoms in the atmosphere we breathe in and breathe out at every moment of every day.  

Apparently every time we inhale,  we “take in” what scientists call “argon atoms”  -tiny atoms that have actually been around since prehistoric times; and then we breathe out our own argon atoms as a cosmic contribution for those who will come after us. My son gave me this scientific essay by the astronomer, Harlow Shapley,  titled Breathing the Future and the Past:

Every saint and every sinner of earlier days,
and every common man and common beast,
have put argon atoms into the general scientific treasury.
Argon atoms are here from the conversations at the Last Supper,
from the arguments of diplomats at Yalta,
and from the recitations of the classic poets..
The next breath we take will sample the snorts, sighs, bellows,
shrieks, cheers and prayers of all who came before us
as far back as prehistoric times.

It’s no wonder to me that so much of the ancient wisdom of all people in every land throughout time has venerated the “holiness” of the air we breathe and focused on breath awareness as a spiritual discipline. 

“God” has been called “spiritus” - the Latin word for “breath,” and “Ruah” - the Hebrew word for breath. Buddhists over the ages have concentrated on the way we breathe as the primary vehicle for connecting our minds to a universal awareness, and the ancient Navajo people call breath, “Holy Wind.”

In these summer days out in the desert, the wind often picks up at sunset.  It howls through the canyons, ushering out the intense heat of the day and bringing in the calming, cooler nighttime air. Last evening I sat in my garden as gusts of wind swept through the palm trees and I inhaled deep breaths of the “wind of creation that pervades the cosmos” – such a sacred moment.

When I came back inside last evening, I ran across this little Taoist poem.  It seems so appropriate:

A lifetime is not what is between the moment of birth and the moment of death.
A lifetime is that one moment between my two little breaths.
The present, the here, the now.
That’s all the life I get.