Just Breathe

Hildegard von Bingen, a holy woman filled with the Spirit, once said the following about herself.

There was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am “I am a feather on the breath of God.”

Well, last night, my evening meditation began with a focus on breath. I went for a run in the cold winter air alongside my dear husband. (Running always helps me channel and feel my breath.) As I prepared mentally for the physical exertion, my breath even caught in my throat. I was a little nervous. I hadn’t run for a little over a month due to a broken toe. Would it be hard? Would I struggle to breathe?

Rather than getting stuck in these insecure feelings, I decided I would shift to preparing physically. You know…take the next right action and leave the rest to God. God would remove my fears and help me get out of my head. So, I put on my Xeros— some minimalist running shoes. My husband, on the other hand, decided to run with NO footwear. Bless his heart! He sure is committed to the whole barefoot movement thing. He’s tried to get me to join him, and sometimes I will (if the temperature and texture are right). But, most of the time, I am happy to appreciate the barefoot movement through him. Hehee!! ;-D

We got out the door at 8 pm. It was dark and cold. I took a deep breath and accepted the challenge. During our mile and half, Brandon and I practiced a new breathing technique. In through the nose. Out through the nose. In through the nose. Out through the nose. He explained the benefits to me and all the research, but all that escapes me at the moment. A post for another time, perhaps.

This new breathing technique required more mental focus and was harder to control than my standard practice of in through the nose and out through the mouth. The sound of our breaths was louder—they set the pace— like the tick-tick sound of a metronome for a practicing piano student. At times, the rhythm of our breaths became erratic, signaling us to slow down or even to stop and walk for a bit.

Then, once we were home, we both stretched and breathed. With each inhale, my mind commanded “Openness!” With that my tense muscles seemed to shun the inward flow of air. My breaths felt shallow. With each exhale, my mind commanded: “Let go!” Still, my muscles strained and resisted rest. Then, over time, I got lost in the sound of my breath. Breath. Ahhhh. B-r-eeeee-ath. Or…spirit? The word used by the Greeks for both breath and spirit is the same—pneuma. To have breath is to have life. When the body loses that which animates it—the spirit, the breath—then life is gone.

After practicing breathwork, I ended my evening meditation by contemplating breath. (Both practice and contemplation are two vital parts of meditation.) I wandered through the concept of breath in my mind and sat drinking a cup of tulsi, turmeric, and ginger tea. I breathed in the spicy scent with each sip, and as I exhaled and blew my breath on the hot liquid, I felt warm steam caress my face. More breath.  

The contemplation of breath continued. With my tea at hand, I trotted happily down memory lane as I reviewed photos of a trip to Colorado last summer. Looking at the pictures of nature—flowers, birds, water, sky—I recalled the joy and peace I felt during my retreat in the forest.

I felt gratitude reminiscing about my respite in nature, but then a tinge of grief. I am not there. I am here. I want to be there. I want to be where the air is crisp and clean. Yet, I am reminded that wherever there is breath, I have life and God. The Spirit reminds me of the following passage from Psalm 139:7-12, which is below.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How do your feelings affect your breath?
  2. What kinds of things give you a satisfying “Ah” when you breathe in?
  3. Do you ever find yourself holding your breath? If so, when? Why?

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