Right now, the world is not breathing so well. There is so much suffering from people struggling to breathe, literally and figuratively. This simple act that we sometimes take for granted is now front and center on many minds, and it’s begging us to pay attention.
How we are breathing in any given moment says a lot about our emotional and spiritual health, which can potentially affect our physical health as well.
In Hebrew, the word for breath is also the word for spirit and wind. In the opening texts of Genesis, the word was used to describe God sweeping over the face of the waters, an image of calm surveying the chaos. It’s also used to describe how God brought to life a mudball he named, “Adam.” For when God breathed into his nostrils, Adam’s eyes popped open for the first time. In describing the creation of humanity in this way, the writer is pointing out a very important theological truth.
Breathing is life.
Jesus echoed this act at the end of the gospel of John when, after the resurrection, he breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and in so doing offered them a new kind of life where tubs once filled with water now overflow with wine.
“Listen,” the poet Mary Oliver asks of us, “…are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”
Right now the world is filled with experiences encouraging us to breathe “just a little.” That is, we react with breathing that is shallow and fast. I even find myself clenching my fists and hunching my shoulders until they ache. And then come the knots in my stomach and the headaches and, well, you get the picture.
And that’s not a life. That’s a slow fall into an echo chamber of despair.
Pay attention to your breath for a moment. How would you describe it? Short and shallow? Long and deep? Are you breathing from your chest? Or is your tummy billowing out? How does it smell? One of the things that may have surprised you recently with wearing a mask is that you need to invest in a pack of mints!
A great way to find solace in moments like this is to close your eyes and simply take a few deep breaths. Start in your belly and then let your chest lift and rise. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. And as you do, think about how it’s not just air entering your lungs. It’s life.
Next, slow your breathing down a little and take deeper breaths. Feel the tension and the worry and the stress leave your body with each exhale. And feel your body recharge and renew, even tingle a little with each deep breath.
Go ahead, give it a try. I’ll wait.
. . .
Breathing deeply is the beginning of living deeply.
Photo credit: Luix90 on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA