The Breath of Life
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” ~Marcus Aurelius
One of the most basic and recurring acts of life is breathing. On average, a healthy person breathes about 20,000 times a day. Yet we hardly stop to think about it.
Breath is our birthright. The moment we’re ushered into this world, we gasp for air, after 9 months of fluid existence in the safety of the womb.
A breath says we arrived safely, and with every breath thereafter we continue to be here—fortunate to be alive.
I’ve written before about the remarkable breath, but not in the detail it deserves. Breath is one of those things that’s better experienced than explained. I’m not going to go into the science of breath, but I’ll try to articulate my thoughts about the role of breath in our wellbeing, and more importantly awakening.
Every breath changes the chemistry of your being. It is innate and instinctive. No one teaches us how to breathe. We just do.
We tend to appreciate the breath only when we can’t get enough air. Anyone with an aliment that impedes the natural flow of breath can tell you what a precious gift it is.
Breathing is free and doesn’t cost us anything. Everyone is entitled to it, rich or poor, able or not, healthy or sickly, black or white, gay or straight. No one gets more or less. We all share the air we breathe.
When we seek enlightenment and guidance, calmness and peace, we don’t need to look beyond the simple and miraculous act of breathing.
Stop reading right now and inhale deeply, hold your breath for a second or two and exhale (with all you’ve got).
This is life.
The breath of life
The expansion and contraction of all of creation can be summed up in one single act—the breath.
The big bang is nothing more than a massive exhalation of energy. The death of a star and release of energy is another exhalation that gave us life.
The gravitational pull of a black hole doesn’t only suck energy and matter, but it absorbs the light out of existence. One can look at it as the ultimate inhalation.
The pause between cosmic inhalation and exhalation is the expression of life.
Our solar system, our planet, every form of life on this earth is a breath of life.
Every breath cycle is a birth of something and death of something else, creation and transformation, rearranging the molecules of matter and energy—one breath at a time.
We don’t need to look for miracles outside of ourselves. The breath of life is what we all are … right here, in this very moment.
- Nourishes your brain and consciousness
- Energizes and cleanses your body
- Calms the mind and eases your stress
- Awakens and brings you back to reality and to this precious moment
- Connects you with life and the cycle of creation
A breath is what keeps us alive.
You don’t need to learn how to breathe; you just need to pay attention to it, as often as you can.
Meditation is a wonderful exercise in awareness, especially if you focus on your breathing. You don’t have to sit for hours and meditate. You can sit for five minutes, and start with a few deep breaths then breathe normally and just notice your breath.
If your mind drifts, gently bring it back to the breath. But if you don’t want to meditate, you can become more aware of your breathing by choosing to pay attention to your breath before or after daily routine activities. Consider the following as examples.
- Upon waking up, take a couple of deep breaths and smile.
- When you get in bed, take a couple of deep breaths and give thanks.
- After completing a task and before moving to the next one, pause and take a deep breath.
- When you get into your car, on the bus or train, breathe deeply a few times.
- When you get into the shower or out of the shower, breathe and relax your body.
- Before you write an email, take a deep breath and feel your hands on the keyboard.
- Before you go on Twitter or Facebook, take a deep breath and state your intention for wanting to check the site.
The main thing is to make it fairly easy for you to do it. You don’t need more than a breath or two with focused attention to bring yourself back to this moment, to this life, and to this breath.
If you forget, do it the moment you remember. You don’t need tools or a special time to do it. Breathe and let go, no judgment or doubt about doing it right.
“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” ~Oprah Winfrey
Attention to the breath is the simplest act of awakening to life.
A breath holds within the essence, genius, and even madness of creation. We don’t need to ask for it, earn it, learn it, or explain it. We just need to experience it.
“ . . . see without looking, . . . hear without listening, . . . breathe without asking.” ~ W. H. Auden