And So I Breathe...
We offer gratitude to the body, the breath, and the mind for working in unison toward our highest state of being in this moment, on this day. But how disjointed have these three elements been over the last three weeks. That phrase “I can’t breathe.” It triggered such a deep immobilization in me. I stopped moving, breathing when I heard those words. I was consumed by sadness and grief. Shortly after I was pulled into my mind and into the memories of the last time I had heard those words from Eric Garner, and suddenly without warning, my dog died. He too, suddenly could not breathe. And from that moment the immobilization became so deep I began to become truly afraid that I may never awaken again.
I have been studying the breath for a long time. The way it moves and creates a pattern unique to our own biological and emotional make-up. How it serves us as it knows until it is interrupted either by choice, by force, or by God. Every one of us has a pattern that has been created to support us in the way it sees fit. Often times this shows us where we have been holding ourselves in order to maintain a shield of protection. Like a suit of armour the breath guards us from the inside out protecting our bodies from emotional, psychological, and spiritual invasion. We often move through the world without exploring these patterns or the potentiality of other patterns to unlock our stories and fragmentations. And so, we allow this involuntary movement of the outside to the inside and the inside to the outside without much thought or care.
The last year has been especially difficult. If I pressed it I could extend that but it’s really in the last year that I have not only lost my connection to my own breath pattern but the breath as God as well. The Amazon was burning, and then Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, Australia, California, to name a few. When the Amazon was burning people kept stating the Earth’s lungs were on fire. Our primary source of breath was compromised. She couldn’t breathe. Shortly after these fires we were inflicted with a pandemic where our lungs were on fire. People began dying at an alarming rate. They couldn’t breathe. In the midst of this George Floyd is suffocated by police officers. He can’t breathe. The breath. The one thing that will continually sustain this life, the one element we cannot live without. For at least a year now it’s been the predominant motto. We can’t breathe.
When the pandemic hit we were all forced to go inside. Having just moved to the United States after a four year hiatus, I found this to be such a profound movement. It forced people who seemed so terribly disconnected from self and other to go inside, physically AND emotionally; spiritually. That time caused an uprooting for a lot of us. Old wounds and traumas began to bubble to the surface. Our own personal pain and wounding began to rise slowly to the surface to be witnessed and deconstructed, maybe even healed. In that awakening we began to feel into this deep well of ancestral trauma that lives in each of us. As this trauma began to rise collectively we were given moments on a screen to bear witness to our own internal make up and choose our response. We watched our ancestral wounds play out right before our eyes and then each of us took to our own corners of action, inaction, or somewhere in between.
This morning I stepped outside of my door and the smell of sewage water was so overwhelming I immediately came inside because I couldn’t breathe. Being outside consistently feels unsafe these days. I then decided to step on my mat for the first time in weeks. I was somehow directed to a practice that was hyper focused on various breathing techniques. It was a struggle. To breathe so deeply into my pain and stay there. To breathe into the grief that has overtaken me in the last weeks. But I continued breathing and moving and trusting that it would come again and I might find some peace of myself that is still in there. Most of what I felt was deep grief. A personal and profound grief of my own coupled with the collective grief that has been building for lifetimes.
In Chinese Medicine an imbalance in the lungs is associated with the emotions of sadness and grief. Equally, when the energy is flowing clearly and freely along these channels, there is a sense of openness, new ideas, and good communication. I can’t help but think about the power of the breath and how it has been altered and manipulated in order to catalyze more grief, more sadness, more pain. We watched the forests burn at the hands of man and we wept. We watched loved ones become sick and die and we wept. We watched George Floyd have the breath drained from his body, and we wept. I watched my dog struggle for breath and I wept. The collective traumas have slowly been pulled to the surface over and over again and we have not been able to breathe, to expand the lungs in such a way to find a consistent flow of energy, until now. Now there seems to be a collective inhale and exhale that is gaining momentum. Now we are allowing the grief to move through us without looking away and it is catalyzing something so profound that a deep awakening is happening.
Grief is the most powerful emotion in the human experience in my opinion. Almost all the others we have some modicum of control over but grief, grief runs its own path. There is no linear thought to the waves that flow through with this one. It consumes. It debilitates. It can coax you in one moment and push you over the edge the next. It dominates thoughts, actions, words, and the breath. Grief makes it difficult to breathe. It brings pain on every level, emotional, spiritual, psychological, physical. There is nowhere for it to go but through. There is no way to anticipate how it is going to move through each of us individually or in what time frame. And this is on the individual level. Add to this now the collective grief that has been accumulating for lifetimes. And maybe this is exactly the medicine that we need to dive deep and feel into every single piece of this reality we have created and allowed to go on for too long. Grief invites chaos and irrational behavior. It propels us in directions through its own control and all we can do is try with our might to breathe as we allow our entire being to thrash from here to there. And the deeper we allow ourselves into the unraveling the closer we come to the rawness of the truth.
When I got on my mat this morning to move and breathe I found breathing was incredibly challenging. It felt as though each breath was an act of labor, a task of the highest and most difficult order. What used to come with ease felt like a new practice. Where there once was a large capacity for space there was little. It brought me to these reflections. To the reminder of the impact of grief and the ways it stores itself in the body and invites us to dismantle the stories that have left us in pieces. It brought me to the labor that requires the dismantling of every lie that has kept me from the truth. This inability to breathe, to remember, it brought me to this moment and the reflection of this collective uncovering that is happening globally and the possibility that arises when we sit with grief and allow it to wash over us and transform us into that which we were always meant to be. Raw. True. Seen. Heard. And so as we all learn to breathe again we struggle with the new patterns, I struggle with the awkwardness of the inhale and exhale and how they move best through my body in this new awakening. And I keep breathing. And I keep feeling. And one day I may meet a new pattern that supports my new structure and becomes my support to this emotional and biological make-up. So in this moment may we pause for a collective inhale and exhale and reminder that this life giving force was provided to us by a power that created us as a collective. And together we will rise.