It can be tough sometimes to nail down the exact beginning of a thing.
The beginning of a relationship, for instance, (did it begin when you first saw him? when you first touched her? when you suddenly realized you couldn’t stop thinking about him? on a date? in a fight?) or when you first began to enjoy decidedly grown up stuff like I don’t know . . . coffee. Or the opera. Or beets.
That’s why it’s fairly surprising to me that over the past three weeks I have come to discover not only the beginning of the stuff that’s hard to pin down but the beginning of everything.
You guys: the beginning of everything.
And it’s so small, so teeny, so ridiculously minuscule that to be able to truly appreciate it is nothing short of miraculous.
With breathing comes every single other thing.
Without breathing comes nothing.
Mindfulness starts with breathing.
Awareness starts with breathing.
Writing starts with breathing.
Thoughts and love and hurt and music and imagination all begin with breathing.
Gratitude starts with a breath just like joy and forgiveness and laughter and presence and everything we could ever think or speak or create (even beets).
Everything zen begins with breathing.
Everything disruptive and healing begins with breathing.
Since we do it close to 30.000 times a day (plus or minus) we take it almost completely for granted. It’s tough to appreciate what feels like a given, right. Which is why it came as such a marked discovery for me to recognize the beginning of everything.
Do you know the way to really appreciate this little ‘breathing’ thing? The way to come face to face with this exotic yet obvious revelation that the beginning of everything is the breathing?
Despite what I thought, it’s not meditation. It’s not slowing down.
It’s not exercise or mantras or beads or prayers.
The way to fully appreciate the sheer magnificence of the beautiful art of breathing is to catch yourself some acute bronchitis (don’t actually do this).
At least that’s how I did it.
For the past three weeks I’ve been consumed with this tremendously irritating, disruptive, painful and dismally unattractive virus of the sort that seems to resist even the copious amounts of antibiotics, steroids, syrups, pills, vitamins, oils, vapors, inhalers and elixirs I’ve been prescribed or concocted of my own devices.
I don’t sleep much. My voice – when it manages to surface – sounds like trash, and the Cough. Mother of mercy, the Cough is a fucking monster. It’s of the impossible variety that just. Will. Not. Let. Up.
All these days, all these nights, violently broken into shredded intervals of busted up consciousness.
When you can’t breathe without erupting into fits of gasping and choking (or trying not to) you are constantly reminded of the luxury it would be to just breathe.
You fantasize about what exquisite decadence it would be to just allow that beautiful, silken air to thread in and out of you unobstructed; like the elegant, invisible stitching of you into the presence of your life.
Before the illness came on, each morning I would sit in meditation and make love to the breathing, totally immersed. I was grateful, sure, but not like I am now.
What I didn’t have a full grasp of was how the connection I was cultivating in that practice was also the beginning of every other thing. The mindful breathing was literally delivering me into everything else I would do with my time and energy that day.
That’s why even writing hasn’t been such an easy thing for me to manage. Not for lack of trying but because it seemed that whatever the ghost is that moves me into the creative space had gone. Disrupted breath, jagged thoughts and a peculiar kind of un-mindfulness took hold.
One I’m sure I would not even notice had I not been so moved by mindfulness in my daily round before.
This disconnection – like this bronchitis – was not one I was prepared for but it is one I am trying to learn from (no mud, no lotus, yeah?).
“Hello, my suffering. I know you are there.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh, No Mud, No Lotus
What a gift I realize, the breath is. What a gift meditation is; just the simple act of sitting with a calm body and steady breath. What a gift it is to be able to have the groundedness to let that breath open you up to working creatively on a thing with the presence of mind and health to really navigate the freedom of that inner space.
It’s all connected, you see, this flow of breathing, of presence, and of creatively bringing forward something beautiful.
Mindfulness begins with breathing.
Awareness begins with breathing.
Connection to ourselves and each other begins with breathing.
Writing begins with breathing.
Everything begins with breathing.
It may sound numbingly simple to say.
Until you can’t say much of anything without coughing up a lung.
~ ~ ~
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