Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

01 May 2012

The Art of the Exhale

I just started reading Pema Chödrön's book When Things Fall Apart,
and I have been trying to practice her meditation technique of 
making the outbreath, the exhale, the object of meditation:
". . . -the elusive, fluid, everchanging out-breath, ungraspable and yet
continuously arising.  When you breathe in, it's like a pause
or a gap.
There is nothing particular to do except wait for the next out-breath." (19)

~ ~

Last Tuesday, I returned to the States after my second trip abroad
this year.  It was a relief to be home,
and to return to Normalcy, though, quite frankly,
I fear Normalcy 
-- "Normalcy" is that strange state we all slip into
when we are surrounded by the familiar,
where we take things for granted,
take each other for granted,
walk down the street where we live and don't look at the beauty,
etc. etc. etc. . . . 
but I did not come home to Normalcy, really; I came home to a phone message
from an old friend telling me my former husband was dying.

In actual fact, he died that night,
and for 24 hours or so I was barraged by phone calls from people
who associated me with him, everyone wanting to be
the person who told me he had passed on.

Of all the calls I received, the one that moved me most was from my old friend A.,
who happened to be there in the hospital when my ex breathed his last.
A. called me within 30 minutes of the death, and he was indeed the first to tell me.

Truly, I was deeply moved that he shared that moment with me:
I could hear the awe and horror still in A.'s voice as he described the scene:
my former mate had cancer, you see, and it was in his lungs,
in his whole body, A. finally admitted,
(I actually had had contact with my ex- over the past months,
and knew he was quite ill, though he would't tell me
exactly how ill)
and he had a breathing tube,
and A. explained the sound of the breath
even with the tube,
and I recalled the times I've stood by one near death,
and all I could really focus on 
was breath.

The inhale, yes,
the agonizing intake,
but more poignantly,
the exhale --
that moment of release
and relief
that anyone at hand knew could be the last,

and I was happy to hear
that the final breath was a gentle one,
a peaceful one 
orchestrated by Mahler, played by one of his friends. 

You see, exhales are the most important part of the breath because
it is what we give out to the world.
Yes, we need the inhale for our individual lives,
we draw in the air to maintain our measly machines,
but it is the exhale that we give to the rest of our
living, breathing creation.

Perhaps this is why people are so interested in final words:
Did he say anything about me?
(No, I didn't wonder that, not at all; but people do.)
Did he say anything absolutely insightful?
Did she say anything at all?
The final word is the wish we give to the larger assembly.

So it is best if it is one of love, or at least one of peace or compassion,
or understanding.  
Our world is so full of evil expirations
and intentions, and it seems to me our final words
have the power to allay them.

huffingtonpost (interesting story - The Scream is being auctioned off!)

~ ~ ~

Indeed, every exhalation is a powerful thing,
like a wish, or a spell, we unconsciously bring 
to those around us.  My mother
was a great sigher, exuding her personal agonies on her children
with every melodramatic sigh.
I think we were all impacted by this,
raised as we were in this aura of personal despair.

Exhalations of fear, too, only fill others with apprehension.
I can see that in my poor cats: when I get upset,
they are upset, too, just as
when I am in love, they too are in love.

Air, you see, is the most insubstantial substance
we consume 
in the material world,
and, whether we like it or not,
it gets recycled.
Now that we understand recycling a little more,
those of us who care actually clean what we discard
before we put it out to be reused.
Why not the same with breath?

Meditating on the outbreath
makes me very conscious of this dynamic.
I know it's hard to make every outbreath meaningful --
after all, we take so many every hour --
but being conscious on some level of the challenge
can slowly bring a change
to every breath we take,
and give back to the world in which we live
and die.


laurak@forestwalkart said...

welcome back! you were missed!

thanks for the very relaxing 'non-meditation' moments. i liked that!

i'm sorry for your loss...i hope all those who were part of his life...can begin to heal...
i know about the breathes. those final breathes...having been at the bedside with a number of close friends and family. it's a breath that makes us realize how short life can be. it's a breath that makes me think of peaceful slumber...a transition. it's that final breath that leaves me feeling alone.

beautiful post. let's remember to...just...b r e a t h e. :)

Debra She Who Seeks said...

The first breath and the last breath. The two most important breaths of our life, yes indeed. And a truly universal experience that absolutely every person shares.

Makropoulos said...

Hi Debra and Laura!
It's nice to be back! Just in time for Spring --