Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Sacredness of Breath

When I was little and I would get really upset, I would cry with such vehemence that I would hiccup and cough uncontrollably.  It would get so bad that I couldn’t catch my breath.  My head would throb and my body would shake.  That was my cue that I had to find a way to calm down.  I had to stop crying, or I would feel worse.  This pattern lasted into adolescence and young adulthood, although with far less frequency.  Luckily, I have never been one to get upset easily, but when I did get upset, it was miserable.

The impetus for the tears was always different: my mother letting my Labrador out on the side of the road when I was seven because we would have gotten evicted if we kept him; a nightmare about my mother being hit by a train when I was nine; a D on a high-school exam that I felt certain I had aced; a bad break up with my boyfriend when I was 20.  I never knew what I did to calm down after these painful experiences, but now, I know.

I breathed.  If my nose was stopped up, I blew it.  Then I focused all my attention on my breath.  I became aware of which nostril was more congested, and I blew my nose again.  Then I focused on my breath again and noticed that my heart rate calmed and my head ached a little less. I continued in this vein until I was calm.  Such a simple thing, but it’s the most important thing we have—breath.

It took eight years of meditative practice for me to begin to grasp the sacredness of breath.  It’s a magical function that puts everything right.  Sometimes I feel sad because my husband didn’t give me as much time as I think he should have or because a friend hurt my feelings.  Sometimes I think about the abuse I experienced when I was a little girl or my father dying when I was 10, and I feel completely alone in the world, the same way I did when I was a child.  In the midst of crying and hiccupping and coughing, I feel certain that the abysmal pain will never subside and that I will die from the weight of it.  Then I inhale.  It is an otherworldly inhale.  It feels like the abyss inside me is sucking in all the air molecules from the atmosphere, and I feel my Self separate from myself.  I feel the divine me, the Godly me, looking down on the life-fucking-sucks me.  I exhale, and there is this all-encompassing calm.  No matter how hard I try to reclaim the malaise (and I do try to reclaim it because on some level, I am loyal to it; after all, it has been with me since my first memory) I cannot.

Were it not for meditation, I could not write.  Were it not for writing, I could never have survived.

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