Thursday, January 17, 2013

Clear breathing…

A vile demon has spent the past week assaulting my precious lungs. Every breath I take, it seems, demands excess wheezing and a hearty cough. This afflicting agent (some blasted cold/flu) has abided in my system longer now than any such enemy I’ve battled in recent years. And the length of its unwelcome drawn-out stay reminds me how taken for granted my normal inhalation routine is!

You ever hear people say that our brains “only use 10% of their capacity”? I’m never sure what to make of that statistic; sounds like some misinterpreted, complex study repeated until it became accepted truth.

Nevertheless, I’ve long thought that, if that claim’s onto something, it’s a reminder of how much occurs in our bodies that we rarely control. Like heartbeats, toenail growth, immune system responses. And breath. Indeed, many times I’m actively thinking about my breath are when I don’t want to be! When water’s gone down the wrong tube and I’m gulping for oxygen. When I land on a table and have my breath knocked out. And when I’m hacking up an infection that’s turning my lungs into Bunker Hill. Otherwise, breath just happens; in-out, in-out. Another of the body’s miracles. Another of God’s gifts.

Y’all might recall that ancient Hebrew uses the same word for “breath” as it does “wind” and “spirit”. Ruach, is the English transliterative, and I find the overlapping meanings significant. Like breath, wind is something elusive, misty, transient. John 10:8 quotes Jesus saying, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” That’s one of those esoteric, hard to grasp, significant sounding scriptures. I guess the point is that breath seems to share with wind, and spirit, similar in-out, insubstantial, utterly essential for life characteristics. The Spirit of God moved “over the waters” and created life, Genesis 1 contends. Or maybe it was the wind of God. The breath of God…!

Here’s what I’ve learned about my breath, over the years, and I wonder if the same applies to my spirit (we’ll leave wind aside!). During meditation exercises, or yoga, or long-distance running, I’m intentionally more conscious of my breath than usual. Good singers share this consciousness too; they breathe deep and in “proper” fashion. Not shallow, gulpy breaths that lift their shoulders and don’t bring in good air. But from the diaphragm, the depths of their stomachs, pushing out the gut. That’s where a deep breath arises, after all, one that spreads life-giving air throughout the entire body. During physical activities (running, singing), this matters because the lungs and muscles are screaming out for as much air as possible, right now, thank you very much! During focusing activities (yoga, meditation, prayer), this matters because the deeper the breathing, the stronger the concentration you create. Plus, those are physical activities too. In other words, this deep breathing practice puts the mind and body into a powerful rhythm, one that seemingly reaches into the core of our spirits, and connects us with a more primordial pulse.

At least, that’s the way it can feel if we let our breath work for us, if we’re mindful and open. And as any meditator or long-distance runner will tell you: after the fact, once you’re done focusing so intently on the rhythms of your breath, you feel better. Your peaceful, energized. Your spirit’s lifted. Plus, it gets easier with practice. Pianists talk about how, if they don’t practice for a day, they can tell. A week, their critics can tell. Two weeks, everyone can! Prayerful people say much the same; you just get into a rhythm. Our spirits enjoy the attention, the discipline, the growth.

Which is all basically my random musings on the fact I’m not breathing as well these days as I wish! Perhaps once my lungs have expunged this demon, though, I’ll get back to breathing more deeply, more consciously. Attending more consistently to the connection my breath has with my spirit; trying to catch more frequently the beautiful winds of God.

Grace and Peace,

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