Early every Monday morning, I drive along the edge of the sea, straight into the sunrise, which comes either as a soft mist or as a breathtaking quicksilver glisten on the horizon. Leaving my car at the edge of a rutted lane, I pass though a rustic wooden gate, then an allée of young fig and almond trees, on a stone path planted with herbs and flowers, and open the door to a sanctuary.
It is a small open room, all white, with high arched ceilings and high leaded windows with patterned glass. On the floor are soft rugs, sheepskins, and cushions neatly and welcomingly arranged. In this room, I am learning to breathe.
We begin on an inbreath and end on an outbreath, and as the yogis say, the breaths between are numbered. In many versions of our human story, the breath is sacred, linked to the mystery of the life force (prana), to art (inspiration), and to the divine (spirit). Inbreath, outbreath – our life suspends between them. I have had the privilege to hear, hold, and witness the first inbreath of one I love – and the last outbreath of another. In both cases time stood still, and the room filled with numinous presence. The inbreath asks to be held and cradled, nursed and warmed; the outbreath for the windows to be thrown open and the pyres lit.
In that white room I am learning that every inbreath is a rebirth, every outbreath a preparation for death. In the space between the breaths wait our greatest lessons. In the space between, waits wisdom. Sitting on that cozy sheepskin in that sweet room for an hour a week, I practice the whole of life, everything that can be experienced. Taking in the gifts of the world, and waiting in fullness. Releasing what is no longer needed, and waiting in emptiness.
We are all afraid to breathe, though breathing is the thread that holds us to life and weaves our connection with the world. Some part of this great round of receiving and releasing is fearful to each of us.
We make our breaths short and shallow because we are afraid to receive; we are afraid we don’t belong or don’t deserve, or we are afraid of what harm may enter us if we take in the world. Or we rush to gulp in air because sitting in emptiness is so hard – trusting that we will be filled again with life is just so hard, and recalls all our old griefs. We linger at the end of the inbreath holding on to our fullness almost to the point of dizziness because it is that hard to let go of what is finished. For each of us, a different part of the round will trigger our frailties.
So to sit with our breath is to learn about our greatest fears, and to sit with our breath can be the beginning of a deeper sense of safety and trust in the world than we have ever experienced before.
I feel at this stage of my life, I am waiting at the bottom of a great outbreath. Little by little I have released the experiences of my reproductive years. I sit gently with the emptiness, just resting before the inevitable inrush of new life, new experiences, new fuel for my inner fire. Resting in emptiness is challenging, but it is also the sacred space of trust, the very point of transformation.
On this day of the new moon, I wish you long, deep, spacious, nourishing breaths, and I wish you the courage to take in life fully and allow yourself to be nourished and filled, and I wish you the courage let go fully of that which no longer serves your soul.