WE CAN’T BREATHE
This has probably occurred to you already but, isn’t it one of the great wonders of this time that a virus that impacts one’s ability to breathe and leaves folks on ventilators, with lungs impaired, gasping--leads to a shutdown that then allows us all to witness a black man being held down on the ground with an officer’s knee on his neck while the man being slowly killed is gasping for air, literally saying, “I can’t breathe?”
They say in detective stories that there are no coincidences. I know people who don’t believe in coincidence at all. I’m not an, “everything happens for a reason,” person, but I am always on the lookout for synchronicities, for patterns and symbols.
A friend of mine told me years ago that the breath was where the soul resides--that when a newborn takes that first breath is the moment the soul enters the body. I’m not sure about the soul--not that I don’t believe in the existence of a soul but I am not an expert. I tend to think that anyone who positions themself as an expert on the soul should be regarded with suspicion. I much prefer living with mystery, admitting and honoring the things we don’t know, can’t know.
But, maybe a soul isn’t an individual thing--what if we all share a soul and it lives in us through our breath.
I had a yoga teacher years ago--in Silverlake, he taught out of his apartment which was just a few doors down from mine. This was when you could still get a one bedroom apartment in Silverlake for under a thousand dollars. Anyway, this guy taught yoga, he emptied his entire front room and managed to squeeze about 12/15 people in at a time. Classes were held in the late morning with diffused sunlight streaming in through gauzy saffron colored curtains.
As many of you know, I have issues with yoga. It’s entirely possible that I resist it precisely because I could benefit from it--but my body isn’t one that enjoys holding poses for long periods. No matter how many classes I’ve taken, I’ve never once enjoyed doing a sun salutation. What I feel is annoyed. Can this be good for one’s health? Persistent annoyance? Anyway, yoga doesn’t need me to defend it--I know plenty of people who practice and love it and I’m happy for them.
Anyway, this guy who taught in the front room of his apartment, he was a really loud breather. I don’t know that I’d ever encountered breathing like that before--where you make the inhale really pronounced and you lean into the roar sound on the exhale. Part of my irritation in that class was my inability to understand why he was doing that. I couldn’t relax. I’ve got mysophonia, which means I’m susceptible to small repetitive sounds.
But I often think of him as I lead the daily breathing on these shows, I add the sort of reedy whistle sound to the inhale and then pronounce the roar on the exhale. Part of the satisfaction of that is knowing that we’re all doing it together, so making the sounds pronounced helps. “Oh,” I think, “he was modeling for us.”
One of the last times I took yoga from him, I noticed that he had poo stains on the back of his loose yoga pants, like a really big poo stain, as if he maybe had pooped a little bit while he was doing a pose there with us in the room but didn’t realize it.
It didn’t help make me want to continue my yoga practice. I mean, you’d think yoga would make you more aware of your body, right? So what does it mean if the yoga instructor doesn’t even realize he’s pooped his pants right there in the middle of pigeon pose, or lotus or what have you.
But back to the soul and this convergence of the virus with the image and sound of George Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe.”
If we believe the soul is in the breath then, doesn’t it seem that one of the main symbols of this time is our collective inability to breathe, as a country, as a people, and that might indicate a collective inability to access our soul.
Imagine the nation like a newborn, gasping, desperate for breath to enter its body, to fill its lungs and allow it to live. Breath and birth are very similar words. The breath of a nation. The Birth of a Nation. No, the Re-Birth of a Nation.
Maybe we are reborn with each breath we take? Or the breath of inspiration gives us new life.
Other similarities that are no coincidence: Breath means spirit. Breath sounds like birth, yes, and then birth is a lot like bird, which lives in the air, which is what we breathe, then birds which fly, and bird is like bread, bread is life, and bread is life, and bread is like breath, which is also life.
Like birds, we are all flying in the same air, all the time, we’re all breathing the same oxygen; wherever you go you’re sharing the same breath with everyone else on the planet. What if we could synchronize our breathing, globally, wouldn’t that be amazing? What might happen if we did that? Would the space/time continuum crack? Or like in some Dan Brown novel, would something in the earth unlock, releasing a force for good, a new epoch of healing and enlightenment? Might our entire existence change, in that instant?
If our daily shared ritual--where we breathe together, doing something that we do all the time but together, with intention--if that practice is any indication, then, yes. All of those things are possible. Everyday, we are changed. And we are changing. And we are changing the world around us.