Breathing for the Common Good

It is getting to be that season of the year in which a five-day-a-week working person has so many different things to do on her weekend days, that certain other things (like writing) start to fall through the cracks. It is the holiday season filled with decorating, baking, gifting, planning, and sharing good cheer whenever possible. On top of all that, the aforementioned person has also taken on the responsibility of organizing the entire artistic, financial, and personal life of her late father. Suddenly, there are barely enough hours in the day to just breathe.

meditating girlFortunately for the human race, breathing is one of those unconscious processes, like the beating of one’s heart, that require no thought or pre-planning. You will never find “remember to beat heart” on anyone’s to do list, although I do notice that it is not a bad idea to put “Breathe” on the list now and then. In fact, the whole empire of mediation is built on the notion of being “mindful of the breath.”

Because breathing does not require our conscious attention to function at its most basic level, we fall into the habit of breathing without thinking about it. When we are busy and stressed (which is pretty much all the time these days, right?), our breathing is shallow, we get more stressed, we reach for an éclair or a cup of eggnog, we congest our airways with gunk, we get more stressed, our breathing is more shallow, etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseum. 

So, let’s put conscious breathing on the collective “to do” list. Stop whatever you are doing (yeah, stop reading for a second when you get to the end of this paragraph, please) and breathe deeply the smell of pine needles, snow, and cinnamon, breathe out gratitude and friendship. Breathe in succulence and expansiveness, breathe out renewed purpose. Breathe in peace, breathe out love.

As I breathe, I am reminded that today is the one-year anniversary of the death of my dear childhood friend, Kathy Carlisle. She died prematurely at the age of 52 standing on a train track, pursuing a photograph of a moving train. Kathy had a husband and three beautiful children. Kathy was an artist, a teacher, a friend. She experienced many difficulties in her life, but she turned them around into making art and encouraging her students to do the same.

In her teen years, Kathy was a student of my father’s at Roeper City and Country School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and she spent those early years formulating and pursuing her vision under his tutelage. Wherever they are today, it feels to me like they are together, enjoying the way the snow looks as it falls to earth. They don’t breathe on this plane of existence any more, Kathy and Georg, but I feel them breathing. Somewhere. And, while I’m here, I continue to draw breath for them, for their memory, for their love.

john's onionI close with one last image, the image of an onion. It is a photograph taken by an old friend from grad school days, John Baird. Thank you, John, for letting me share this beautiful onion. How simple it is. How complex. Does the onion breathe? Not the same way we do, but when it is open it shares its many layers. As long as I continue to breathe, I cannot help but be touched by all this mystery.

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