I’ve been thinking a lot about breath lately. I’ve tried reading about it, meditating on it, and looking around me for inspiration about it. (Thank you, thank you.)
Today, then, as I looked up at this giant machine arching over my head, I heard its voice — the machine’s voice — in a rather confusingly seductive voice, tell me to stop breathing.
Is it all just as simple as that, I wondered? Just stopping?
It was a rather ironic instruction because just minutes before it I had had to face something that I had set out for my whole life to not face: being injected with a substance that had the power to kill me. I had lulled myself into the belief that I would not be injected with death, that I was to be given an alternative.
But no, what I thought had been the alternative administered was in fact a medicine to with hope prevent the lethal injection from stopping my breathing. In the moments in which I realized the reality of the situation, I had to go over all the things I should have done before I had come to this point, finding a certain awkwardness in the time and place and disconnected nature of both to the rest of my life.
Perhaps, I realized, I’m not as much in awe of my own death as I once thought myself to be.
So the fluid goes in. I attempt to stay calm. And then the machine tells me to stop breathing.
Perhaps it was merely a scene out of a Woody Allen movie.
But, as I stated at the outset, I’ve been fascinated with breathing for quite a while. Contemplating the matter always sends me back to the birth of my son, Nathaniel, after which my first urge was to write a book entitled, Everything That You Always Wanted to Know About Childbirth, But Were Afraid to Ask.
Yes, I guess it would be like me to think of books and writing at such a time. After all, we’re at our best just after we have watched the amazing metamorphosis from no breath (when he looked remarkably like an elephant — all grayish blue, or was it bluish gray?) to pink breathiness, are we not?
There are thousands and thousands of books on child bearing, all of which are completely wrong.
In them, there is always an implication that the mother is to some degree or another in control. Most of them zero in right on breathing — train yourself to breathe right, they stress. Have someone there, at your elbow to guide you, keep you on course.
Guide you? Keep on course?
My book would expose these suggestions for what they truly are: utter nonsense.
During birth, were someone to say to the pushing or nonpushing mother-to-be to breathe in a certain manner, the accurate response would be, “Breathe? Breathe? What are you talking about? There is no breathing in childbirth!”
Instead there is the smashing together of two magnificent life-forces, one of which grips the other in its desperate struggle to come into life, while the other struggles merely to keep up and hang on back, realizing that the new force is now in complete charge of the struggle.
Where is the breath in that?
Were a machine present to suggest that you stop breathing, it might even make more sense in the context of it all.
Inhale as deeply as you can, and stop your breathing.
As I gazed up and saw these lights flit across the arch, the only word that came to my mind was, God.
Back on Earth, having eventually been given permission to let my breath out and inhale normally, I thought how much God would love these massive machines. These constructs that bring him more and more into our reality. Their intricate workings. Their inherent goodness. Their silent expression of love.
Another irony I thought of was how these scientists who, in reality, through their work bringing God to us were, at the same time, turning their back on the true giver of their insights and pretending that their genius is all about them, not God. Not the one who was truly being expressed.
God. Love. Breath.
Or not breath.
Breath is, no matter the situation, really a discipline. It is also a matter over which we can have some control, at times, and a discipline for which we can practice detachment.
In times of conflict, we can still our breath, soothe our pounding heart, and keep ourselves open to what stands before us. In times of fear, we can keep our breath calm so that we are not limited to the choice of running away or barging forward.
Breath is yet another way that we can connect ourselves, to others that threaten the connection, to others who need the connection, to God.
We can use our breath as an expression of trust and faith. We can use our breath to help keep our eyes on the reality of God’s love in our reality. We can use our breath as a tool to not just keep our life going, but to keep it going with integrity and honor.