This I Believe
I believe in taking a deep breath. Breath is a direct, intimate, personal experience with something elusive, but essential.
We translate nearly everything. You are translating the meaning of my words. We translate the meaning of a look, a touch. But breath is an untranslated exchange with the Universe. It is our direct, inherent connection to each other— to everything in our communal Universe.
Never robustly healthy, by the end of 1999 I couldn’t even pretend to normal physical functioning. But measurable signs from medical tests showed little to validate my symptoms. I was told, “If you’d think you’re well, you’d be well.” So I tried that.
Through winter and spring of 2000, I spent most of my time flat on my back, too exhausted to even hold and read a book. I watched the trees, the shine on bare branches, the miracle of spring leafing out, the world continuing with no effort on my part. I finally greeted pain, exhaustion, and diminished mental capacities as acceptable elements in my life. In that moment, that condition, my continued breath still named me both acceptable and not yet finished.
I discovered that sometimes, by just quietly watching my breath— not controlling, just watching— I could capture my pain in a sort of shimmery blanket and then sink beneath that blanket, and away from pain.
Under that golden cover, in the quiet, I found a sense of some watching presence. The great I AM, perhaps. The thread that connects the Universe.
In that easy, safe space, I accepted that I will surely die. I recognized that I dreaded pain, feared it; that fear and pain are distinct and separate, though fear adds to pain. The notion whispered, turn toward your pain instead of resisting, turn toward your fear instead of running, open your arms and embrace it all. I discovered that inside the marvelous, warm, free majesty of breath I could ride right into the darkness of fear, and fear dissipated around me like a thin mist.
Time passed. Different doctors, different tests, diagnoses accrued, among them Sjogren’s syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome. There were treatments. By 2002, I walked with a walker, and took fifteen different prescription medications.
More time passed. With holistic help, and practice attending to breath, I weaned myself to two prescribed medicines. I learned to walk unassisted again by imagining every detail of the process and then drawing a deep breath. I’m still thankful for every step.
There are no cures for my various ailments, but in attention to the breath I have found healing. Even under stress, if I can remember to pay attention, I am anchored in the acceptable present moment. The breath is spacious, a haven of peace and calm, a place of wisdom, where I can hear “the still, small voice within.” The breath returns me to balance and wholeness. In the ever-changing constant of breath, I am forever home. So, I believe in the breath.
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