Breathing: death, as part of daily life

Breathing: death, as part of daily life

“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s difficult.” Isaac Asimov

“Death is but a door we open and pass through” Targett

I met a woman yesterday who was seemingly startled when I spoke of death. There is a great deal of artwork at Mona that describes death, transitions, new life. We were speaking after such a tour. She had seen more setting suns than I have, and was (possibly) closer to the door than I. Though one can never tell, and I suppose this is part of the questions that we ask in life. How do we address the theme of death? When our whole body is “exposed to the Golden Wind” (Free Play) How do allow ourselves to transition between relationships, jobs, thoughts, dress sizes, emotions, birthdays, cities? Are we someone who hangs on, can’t let go, or someone who is onto the next project without a second thought. I heard once that how someone leaves a conversation is how they leave things in much of their life. Do we wave goodbye long after the car has disappeared, are we still crying over long lost love, or do we transition so quickly we forget to thank the person who had served us at the deli?

Transtitions. They can promote rejuvenation on all levels for all senses. When it is done with grace it can be highly refreshing. Transitions mark our society: Some are celebrated and honoured, such as marriages. Some have been forgotten, such as a Levi-Strauss-esque pubertal Rite of Passage. So, how do we celebrate our transitions. I went through a period last year where I bought mini-champagne bottles,  and I would celebrate something at the end of each day that had happened. It was a profound way of acknowledging that it was a day to be celebrated, and a transition marked. Otherwise, many occasions would not be honoured. It allowed me to contemplate an achievement for the day, no matter how small, for in the marking, it allowed me to honour the significance for me.

We transition daily through many aspects of our lives: On and off public transport, in and out of our emotional heart, out of the past into the future and sometimes in the present. How do we find grace in our transitions? Some may feel as if we might never recover or make it throught the transition. It is well documented that most humans do not like change. We know this from our own experiences. Even is something no longer serves us, we may have a tendency to hang on to it, as it is familiar, however not entirely comfortable. Yet, as humans, we are highly adaptable to change. 

Breathing is a constant transition between the conscious and unconscious. Breathing can be a metaphor for receiving. How able are we to allow something into our being, our body, our psyche, and how are we in turn able to let it go? “Expiration” or out breath is also known as a little death. Do we fully exhale before we commence the new with an of inhalation? We get thousands of opportunities to explore this each day. A reason why mindfulness meditation is so fantastic, as we get on average 12 opportunities a minute.

Surrendering to the power of the exhalation, and deeply trusting that the new inhalation will arrive. Our new inspiration. Waking every morning, in the realisation that we have breathed unconsciously whilst we were asleep and then being “inspired” by the day to come. How often in a daily working week do we feel this inhalation as we arise in the morning? Sometimes it is the exhalatory sigh at the end of the day that we notice more. And indeed that could also be a metaphor for where we are in our lives, and what transitional aspect we are in: Have we made a change that feels amazing, or do we know that we need to make a change and have not done so yet. And for some it is the fact that they have been shallowly breathing all day.
According to Woodman, “Most of us keep our breath as shallow as possible because the eruption of feelings is too intense if we inhale deeply”. How and why do we keep our breath shallow? It takes a great deal of effort to put in place such a controlled pattern of breath.

Now, I am not a fan at all of the words “breathe deeply” as I know it sets up all sorts of strange body patterns, known to trigger the adrenalin system when we raise our clavicles upwards. I use a great deal of visual imagery: I like a “long and low” breath invitation where we can allow our pelvis and belly to expand. If I say to a client that they are holding their breath, or not breathing, they usually reply with a “Of course I am breathing, otherwise I’d be dead!” The transition to the out-breath is one of release and surrender. It is a path that needs awareness and intention.

Helen Sharp from the BodyVoice Centre speaks of the capacity of the breath to be “curious about entering the body” I love this idea, and have felt it in myself that the quality of the breath changes deliciously. I have seen it in turn with countless clients, where the quality changes from gasping to allowing the breath in. 

Breathing also plays such a role with our  adrenalin system, and in as much our “nerves” Helen Todd in the novella by Amanda Lohrey states “And the nerves are also there because you get tempted to interfere all the time. There’s this sense of trusting yourself and keeping out of your own way. No matter how good you become, you can still get in your own way”.

How can we breathe, sing and perform all whilst getting out of our own way? Complex. I do not know the answer in its entirety. It is also dependent upon each individual, their history, their body, their emotions. One of the keys is the ability to surrender. To let go.  And then to receive the inhale. To be with all aspects of our body and our breath. To reside within the spaces between the inhale and the exhale. For there “by some alchemy, we drop into direct mystic participation in aliveness or being itself, which is beyond emotion, skill, thought or imagination” (Free Play)