Sunday, 29 January 2017

Be Still & Don't Forget to Breathe

I recently came across the following, taken from “No enemies within” by Dawna Markova. It moved me deeply and tied in with quite a few thoughts that had been forming within me as I breathed...

"When I was in the hospital, the one person whose presence I welcomed was a woman who came to sweep the floors with a large push broom. She was the only one who didn't stick things in, take things out, or ask stupid questions. For a few minutes each night, this immense Jamaican woman rested her broom against the wall and sank her body into the turquoise plastic chair in my room. All I heard was the sound of her breath in and out, in and out. It was comforting in a strange and simple way. My own breathing calmed. Of the fifty or so people that made contact with me in any given day, she was the only one who wasn't trying to change me.

"One night she reached out and put her hand on the top of my shoulder. I'm not usually comfortable with casual touch, but her hand felt so natural being there. It happened to be one of the few places in my body that didn't hurt. I could have sworn she was saying two words with each breath, one on the inhale, one on the exhale: 'As . . . Is . . . As . . . Is . . .'

"On her next visit, she looked at me. No evaluation, no trying to figure me out. She just looked and saw me. Then she said simply, 'You're more than the sickness in that body.' I was pretty doped up, so I wasn't sure I understood her; but my mind was just too thick to ask questions.

"I kept mumbling those words to myself throughout the following day, 'I'm more than the sickness in this body. I'm more than the suffering in this body.' I remember her voice clearly. It was rich, deep, full, like maple syrup in the spring. . . .

"I reached out for her hand. It was cool and dry. I knew she wouldn't let go. She continued, 'You're not the fear in that body. You're more than that fear. Float on it. Float above it. You're more than that pain.' I began to breathe a little deeper, as I did when I wanted to float in a lake. I remembered floating in Lake George when I was five, floating in the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island when I was seven, floating in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa when I was twenty-eight. Without any instruction from me, this Jamaican guide had led me to a source of comfort that was wider and deeper than pain or fear.

"It's been fifteen years since I've seen the woman with the broom. I've never been able to find her. No one could remember her name; but she touched my soul with her compassionate presence and her fingerprints are there still."

...It's amazing what healing can come by simply connecting...The connecting, of course, begins with that one thing that connects all life...the breath...Sometimes, of course, we need another to remind us to simply connect, once again, through the breath...Sometime we need someone else to remind us to simply be still and to not forget to breathe...I offer thanks and praise for the many that do so in my life...Thank you...

I recently began participating in a core-physio class. It’s quite tough due to my troubles with flexibility etc. I’m sticking at it though and it is helping. I'm even beginning to enjoy it. As in so many things in my life these days I try really hard, perhaps too hard. The woman leading the class kept on teaching us various exercises during the hour and kept on having to remind us of something vitally important, I say vital because it truly is life giving and life sustaining, she kept on saying to us “don’t forget to breathe”. She also pointed out when we had our pain faces on and I seem to remember that she called me Elvis a couple of times, due to me curling my lip while attempting the different movements. This brought laughter which of course helps with relaxation and breathing…Mainly though she kept on saying “Don’t forget to breathe.”

 ...Don't forget to breathe...

It brought to mind a favourite film that I had only been discussing a few days before after I had been given the privilege of travelling over to Yorkshire to conduct the blessing and naming ceremony of a dear old friend’s son. Afterwards of course we got talking about the old days and one of the things we reminisced about was going to “the pictures” in Dewsbury. The film “The Karate Kid” came up in the conversation, it was one of my favourites. In some ways I identified with the lead character Daniel, or Daniel-San as Mr Miagi called him. My sister even called me “Daniel-San”. Now in the film the old Karate master Mr Miagi teachers Daniel-San Karate by a strange method which seemed more like household chores “Wax on, wax off” and “paint fence”, while he was doing so he kept on saying to him “Don’t forget to breathe”

 “Don’t forget to breathe” you can’t really, although at times it can seem like it, especially if your mind is so focused on something that your body stiffens up and almost freezes. 

Most of us rarely think about breathing, unless we are attempting some kind of spiritual exercise or your exercise teachers mentions it, or you have some kind of respiratory illness. We breathe without thought we just do it naturally all day every day and at night too while we sleep. We breathe something like 23,000 times per day. It is a natural function of our physical being. We don’t even notice ourselves doing so unless we pay attention to it. We can’t even stop ourselves from breathing, it is beyond our capacity to control. So when the teacher reminded us not to forget to breathe it was not so much that we had stopped breathing it was more that our physical being had stiffened up. We are constantly breathing, we just rarely ever notice it. Breathing is something that we all do unconsciously.

I have been thinking about breathing and the breath a lot recently. Thinking about times when I have had to focus on breathing and it helped me greatly. I remembered a time many years ago when I suffered from a terribly racing mind and was constantly anxious. My mind would flitter from painful memories from the past that would fill me with shame and or anger or fears about the future. I was deeply restless and would often find myself dripping in sweat even in the middle of winter while I would have rushes of feeling running through my body, there was no stillness in my heart. It was at this time that I began to practice prayer and meditation and other spiritual practices including a relaxation techniques that would loosen me physically. I also remembered how serious, or how seriously I took myself in those days. I smiled and laughed as I remembered myself. I shared this with a friend who was also struggling with similar feelings and who I know will also loosen up about these things if they stick with it.

It’s funny but as a result a phrase has been ringing in my ears ever since…”Be still and don’t forget to breath. And when you breathe, do it from way down below…laugh and let your whole being let go…Let yourself loose…”

Brings to mind this little extract from “How to Want What You Have” by Timothy Miller

"I went with my wife to see the opera La Boheme. I wasn’t familiar with the plot, the acoustics in the hall weren’t quite right, and I needed to read the supertitle translations but found them distracting. I was physically and mentally restless; soon my mind was wandering back to problem solving and reviewing tasks I was working on earlier in the day. It struck me that when I was working on them, I was thinking about going to the opera. So I tried using breath-awareness. It was difficult at first because it forced me to confront my restlessness. After a few minutes I figured out a way to glance occasionally at the subtitles, not to worry about every detail of the plot, and to enjoy the beauty of the voices even if I couldn’t understand what they are singing. Pretty soon I was swept into the story. Breath-awareness prevented me from being lured back into pointless fantasizing about other times and places. As the poignant story reached its climax, I wept at least a pint of tears. I left the theatre with a pleasurable sad-achy sensation in my heart that lingered for hours."

...The breathe has the capacity to brings into a fully lives experience of reality...It brings the spirit to life...It brings us fully to life...

Now it should not surprise me that the breath had the capacity to do more to my being than physically keep me alive, that it actually has a healing quality. In the great spiritual traditions this is recognised. It sustains more than merely physical existence but enables a person to be fully alive. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition it was thought that the soul entered the body through the breath. Breath and spirit meant the very same thing. Ruarch in ancient Hebrew meant spirit but it also meant air or wind. It also meant passion and emotion, a state of the soul, thus denoting the passion of God to create life. It gives birth to inspiration which comes to us invisibly much like the air, it seemingly just rushes in. We breathe in inspiration just as we breathe it out on one another. Every word I speak comes alive in my breath and every word I hear is drunk in through my senses.

 You see something similar, to the Judeo-Christian understanding of "Ruarch" in Hinduism where the sound of the divine creation is invoked and chanted on a regular basis. When the Hindu’s chant “Ohm” they are exhaling breath and thus echoing creation. They are merging themselves with all that exists. Similarly to the Abrahamic faiths in Hinduism creation, sound, speech and the breath are bound together. In this there is a recognition that all is sacred, that everything is divine. The Lakota Native American people speak of a supreme entity Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, the Great Mystery that exists in everything, that is the fabric of the material world and the unseen source that sustains all life…The air we breathe, the breath of all life, the spirit of life.

We are all united, tied together, by the one breath of all life. It sustains us physically but it does more than this it fills us spiritually. It also humbles us and therefore opens us up to more than we could have ever dreamed of. Not just in the sense that we need to breathe just to live but also it confirms our interdependence on one another, the earth in which we share our being and that spirit of all life that ties it together.

When life gets too much, when the mind races or we feel separate and alone, when something happens that takes our breath away with fear. All we have to do is relax, open up and connect once again with the one breath that sustains and connects all life…Be still and don’t forget to breathe...

Neil Douglas-Kloz wrote in “Blessings of the Cosmos”

“Breathe easily and naturally with the Aramaic word for deep, creative peace: SHLA-MA. By placing one hand lightly over your heart, feel your heartbeat coming into rhythm with this word. Then use the feeling of the word as a doorway into a connection with the peace and potential that was there before the beginning of the universe. Feel the whole sweep of existence — all of the plants, animals, stars, and galaxies that are traveling ahead of you. Find your place in this moving, cosmic caravan of life and affirm that the same potential that began the universe can be felt in your life, here and now.”

 Be still and don’t forget to breathe. We are not alone in life, there is nothing to be anxious about, just pause and connect to that one breath of all life that breathed all life into being.

The Psalmist wrote (Psalm 46 v 10), “Be still and know that I am God!” The being still begins by simply returning to our breath, for it connects us beyond our small selves to the whole of existence. Once the stillness comes we can then act appropriately and bring this love alive in existence. Once we have awakened to the inspiration we can begin to act and begin to inspire those around us. It begins though by being still and not forgetting to breathe.

 It really is that simple. Our lives and all life begins with that first breath. This never changes. Everything begins by returning to that first breath. It humbles us, it opens us and it helps us to connect to all of life and that spirit that runs through it all.

 Do not worry…Be still and don’t forget to breathe…

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with these words of blessing by John O’Donohue

“In Praise of Air”

Let us bless the air,
Benefactor of breath,
Keeper of the fragile bridge
We breathe across.

 Air waiting outside
The womb, to funnel
A first breath
That lets us begin
To be here,
Each moment
Drawn from
Its invisible stock.

Air: vast neighborhood
Of the invisible, where thought lives,
Entering, to arise in us as our own,
Enabling us to put faces on things
That would otherwise stay strange
And leave us homeless here.

Air, home of memory where
Our vanished days secretly gather,
Receiving every glance, word, and act
That fall from presence,
Taking all our unfolding in,
So that nothing is lost or forgotten.

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