What prayer is this? This breath. This sigh.
God’s sigh to all creation.
Well done, my child. Well done.
It took me a lifetime to learn how to breathe. A reflex so basic, even that couldn’t be trusted. Small sips of air only to sustain.
After mother’s milk, my sister and I were weaned on the legend of grandma and her near-death-by-peanut butter epiphany. According to folklore, after the girls were in bed and the husband on the next train (back then, children and men were always labeled as generic the’s); Betty, sideways in gloves and heels, silently dipped a silver spoon into a virgin jar of silky Jiff and immediately lost herself in consummate pleasure.
Yet, Betty being Betty, a prototype for all emerging Bader women, immediacy trumped forethought, and every indulgence always pays a price. It was then that the family legend was born.
Details sketchy, plot overworked, but the drama of the apron-clad matriarch hunched over blue has plagued generations with its dire warning, “Oh no! Not the Jiff!” A threat so ominous, we could only clutch our throats in horror and look the other way, knowing never again to ask for a peanut butter sandwich.
I suspect like any good tale, the saga of Betty and her NDE (Near Death Experience) carries an important lesson. (Much more than don’t eat peanut butter directly out of a jar.) It’s about breath. All types of breathing. The short and snotty, the extended and ecstatic. Our first inhale, a pathway to life. The final exhale, our return trip Home.
We hold our breath in amazement, in dread, in love. We hold it, or perhaps, breath holds us, upon first gaze of a newborn, upon the soft light of August, upon a whisper that stills the mind. Such divine, awe-inspiring moments when humanity merges with divinity, where not even a solitary breath can sustain such splendor.
Yet when you can’t breathe — and we can’t, many times a day — life is held hostage. Paralyzed. Unable to advance, to release, to merge into the larger ether that sustains us all. Our only means of resistance, a single stubborn breath, unwilling to exhale, until no more.
I find it telling now how Betty’s dip into a 5-inch drum of whipped peanut butter blocked her capacity to breathe. How we, too, cloak ourselves in comfort, spinning a cocoon of ease so tight that when we are called to emerge (as we always are), the threads of desire strangle all attempts to surface. Even the seal of indulgence cannot sustain emerging life, the eternal urge to manifest new ways of being in the world.
Breath cannot be held, any more than a cloud, a child, a thought. Fleeting, ethereal, holy. Breath can only be cherished, then released, like all life-sustaining favors. Each moment made new by the power of a silent prayer, a single inhale, exhale, back into life.
Again and again, we are called to breathe, to partake in God’s lovely sigh, to step back from our own masterpiece and lovingly say, "Well done, my child, well done."
Joyce Graham is an instructor at Rogue Community College and author of "Eat Cake for Breakfast…And Other Rules to Break to Live Life More Vibrantly!" and "Joy Becoming," available on Amazon. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at email@example.com.