- At the Desert Retreat House -
An editorial in yesterday’s local newspaper offered some pretty solid advice to the many people experiencing angst and anxiety in these last turbulent weeks before the upcoming presidential election: “Take a deep breath and stay focused.”
I was immediately reminded of something Buddhist teacher and monk, Thich Nhat Hanh once said:
Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky,
conscious breathing is my anchor.
In my own experience, “taking a deep, conscious breath” does indeed help me to feel anchored and grounded, especially in times when I may be more anxious than usual or when the world seems especially chaotic. I’ve been thinking about why this is so?
A while back our local NPR station featured a Ted Talk that really stuck with me. The program featured a series of lectures by various scientists who talked about the ecology of the natural world - how all things, all creatures, all people are dynamically interconnected into one living breathing organism.
In one particular segment of the program, a biologist talked about the air we breathe:
Take a deep breath, the yogis had it right.
Breath does indeed connect us in a very literal way.
Take a breath and as you breathe in, think about what is in your breath.
There, perhaps, is the carbon from the person sitting next to you,
Maybe there’s a little bit of algae from some nearby lake, river or beach.
There may even be some carbon in your breath from ancient dinosaurs,
and there could also be carbon that you are exhaling
that will be in the breath of your great great grandchildren.
The air we breathe connects us all the time
As I reflect on this wonderful observation it makes me think of how the word “God” is so often used to refer to a “man” who lives up in some distant place - a king, a judge or a ruler, a heavenly father. And yet, when I examine the images of ‘God” in many of the scriptures and teachings of most of the world religions, a common way of imaging God is: the air we breath.
In the Christian tradition, after his resurrection, Jesus appears among his disciples as a Holy Spirit, depicted as a powerful wind blowing through the room where the disciples are gathered together. In the Hebrew tradition, “God” is often referred to Ruah: a breath of air, a holy wind, sometimes mighty, sometimes gentle. Similarly, a Navajo word for “God’ is Holy Wind: “the breath of creation that pervades the cosmos,” and Buddhists focus on awareness of one’s breath as a means of being grounded in and connected to the greater universe.
It seems to me that, taking a deep breath helps me to feel so anchored because in every breath I take I am breathing in everything that was and everything that is, and I am breathing back into everything that yet will be. With every breath I take, I am breathing in “God” who was, who is, and who is yet to come. And so I can be still, feel confident, and even in the midst of chaos I know that all is well.
I am reminded of something the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, once wrote:
Whoever breathes the most air lives the most life.