I was thinking about the act of breathing today. And the word breath. Often misspelled as its verb form, breathe, this little word has quite the extraordinary purpose in this life of ours. It is the proof of life, the thing we do an average of 20,000 times a day that we rarely consider.
Not only for obvious reasons do we need to repeat the process, but our digestive system needs our air on a cellular level to help the glucose in our foods digest, our brains need 20% of those breaths in order to help us think, our muscles need it in order to continue to function, and our immune system requires it for our cells to repair and replicate!*
When I was a little girl, my Uncle George (who was an uncle I only ever saw a handful of times for lots of reasons and who also spent a lot of time in Asian culture) came over to my grandparents where I was staying. I was a very sheltered little girl and when Uncle George offhandedly mentioned I was breathing wrong and that he would show me how to breathe with my diaphragm, I took this fascinating new information very seriously. I practiced not using my shoulders and neck to breathe, rather focusing on filling my diaphragm with oxygen — in and out, in and out — all day until it became a habit. As an adult, and going through much body-awareness as God used bodywork to heal my emotional and physical stuff, I tapped in to focusing on just being aware of my breaths — this is something I can control, after all.
It is perhaps our first response to panic or pain — to hold our breath. It is the absolute sign of life, in fact, God breathed life into Adam. What a concept! It is the first proof of life when our babies enter our world from theirs. It changes as one prepares to leave this world and ends abruptly when they enter the next.
We can see it at times, we can feel it, smell it, and yet, most times, we don’t even consider it.
Now, in this new world we live in, I have realized that some of our frustration is losing what we all took so for granted. We have lost our freedom to move about in any place we choose, to meet with folks with whom we choose to meet, to have someone prepare our food as we gather in a public place, to travel to a location of our choosing. It took us awhile to adjust our brains to this new space.
These days, our friendly smile is covered as we breathe through some fabric in order to protect ourselves and others from our very breath and what it might contain. The irony is we are protecting our breath from the virus that threatens to steal breath! There are those who would love an easy breath right this moment. That’s some scary and sobering stuff.
It’s easy to get lost in the details and forget the basics, and we simply cannot afford to do that. Let’s not worry about our breaths, rather acknowledge the Giver of them. Let’s see each one as a gift. When we feel scared, let’s focus in on our air-in and our air-out and be grateful for those very breaths that we have and those of our family — whether we are with them or not.
This has pared us down to less, and that alone is a gift perhaps not appreciated. Maybe, if we keep searching, there are some gifts yet to uncover and acknowledge. Thankfulness is a great place to start.
Deep breaths, friends.
*Source: Advent Care — How Many Breaths You Take Per Day and Why it Matters