If God resides within the breath, what does it mean when you are “short of breath,” with inflammation in the lungs? That was my status, post chemo—another one of the side effects, which takes 4–6 weeks to resolve. Meanwhile, my breathing was slower, my walking slower, everything slower. Was this God’s way of getting me to slow down (even though my life is not fast-paced)? Perhaps the message here is “press the pause button on everything and just be in the stillness of the breath, in which God is ever-present.” Nothing is more important. “You’ve dropped all the pieces of your identity; now just rest in the absence of identification, the presence of divinity.” This is what I am hearing, what I am receiving. Another gift of this experience. Because when you find yourself struggling to breathe (as I did one night recently), you are awakened to the slender thread that holds you to life: one single breath at a time is your lifeline to aliveness. And to God.
When I sat in silence, completely still, awareness of my breath filled my consciousness. Spirit too filled me, and I found myself asking for guidance on how to navigate a path in which there is no longer anything but my soul breathing life into form. The answer that came back clearly was “Love.” If there is meaning in life, it is love itself, the face of God present in all things. Love is the North Star guiding us even when we can’t see it. When all else falls away, there is love in every breath we take because it is the source of life.
As I walk this path of breast cancer, there is much that is unknown, but I do always feel the presence of love—in the hearts of those closest to me, in my own heart, and in something greater, an infinite beingness which humans have named God. The “Great Mystery” that we try so hard to define and understand is best known through the experience of love, looking into the eyes of another or at the wonders of the Earth. Not surprisingly, we often find ourselves breathing deeper at these times, filled with awe and gratitude. Our breath connects us to everything, internal and external. Perhaps this is the greatest wisdom of all: the breath, God, and love are all the same thing. You are closest to God and love when you focus on your breath, realizing you are part of the divine trajectory of all life.
Ironic that the main symptom of the current global pandemic is loss of the ability to breathe, easily or at all. Is humanity symbolically losing its connection to the breath of life (and God)? The Earth “breathes” through its forests and plants (oxygen–carbon dioxide cycle); the oxygen they produce sustains our lives. Yet we are killing them off at an alarming rate. Perhaps we are all, individually and collectively, being shown the importance of something we take for granted: the air we breathe. Because without it, we cease to exist, one and all. The message is clear: Stop business as usual; protect the environment, our shared home. Quiet your mind; remain still long enough, and you will see the connection between your own breathing and everything else, including God. The sacredness of each part of life on Earth will become clear. And your breath is your best teacher.
After my own recent experience of not being able to catch my breath for several very long minutes, I felt a new sense of its preciousness. Later, sitting alone in the darkness of night, I had such a profound awareness of my own breathing. It filled me with Life, yes, but it also filled me with peaceful Presence. Within one single breath is the spirit that holds the universe in the mind of God, and love in the heart of all creation. This seemingly invisible process holds the keys to both planetary life and divine connection. May we honor it as the irreplaceable gift of grace it is.