Sometimes I forget to breathe. I know that’s nuts. After all, breathing is supposed to be one of those automatic things we do, but I don’t think I’m the only one who forgets to do it. We get stressed, and our breath becomes shallow. We don’t even notice there isn’t any oxygen in our lungs, but who hasn’t cried and ended up gulping air in dramatic sobs? Tears trump air and actual survival.
I have an interesting uncle, the kind of uncle everybody should have. He has a house full of mysteries that’s fun to explore. He’s shot lightning across the basement with Tesla coils, melted glass in a kiln, and had huge tins of military surplus candy. He also had a picture of a turbaned man lounging in a plastic recliner, which definitely wasn’t my idea of “spiritual leader”. I couldn’t imagine Jesus in a plastic lawn chair.
My uncle was the first person I ever knew who chose a different religion than the one he was born into. The idea was novel to me, exciting, disturbing – and I wasn’t really sure how to accept it. I also didn’t know how to process things about that religion, especially when my uncle tried to explain how and why he meditated. I couldn’t grasp the concept. I simply couldn’t keep my attention on my third eye and kept thinking “this is impossible”.
When I reported back to my uncle that I couldn’t do it, he asked if I had ever looked at a cup on a table and become so absorbed by it that I forgot about everything else in the room, forgetting the table the cup was sitting on, and even forgetting about my own body? Or, had I ever lost myself in the flame of a candle? Well, sure, everybody’s done that, right? Which I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it made sense to me. “That’s meditating”, he said.
I found myself sitting at the river, watching the light bouncing off ripples of water. I felt my heart calm, felt my breathing deepen, and realized I was great at meditating – when I actually remind myself to do it, and I didn’t have to convert to a religion with a guru sitting in plastic lawn furniture to do it. In fact, I realized that meditation is a universal human activity when we go fishing, get lost in painting, or any other quiet, focused activity that humans do.
Today is the winter solstice. That means the days will start getting longer again. In many traditions, it’s time to meditate and let go of things that no longer serve us, time to look forward to new opportunities. Breathe in good, and breathe out bad. In is healing and universal light; out is stress, pain, disease, release.
I’ve been distressed about the recent school shooting in Connecticut. I don’t want to see video of stunned children forgetting to breathe, their faces white from shock. Other people can argue what we should do about preventing events like this in the future. I’d like to remind people how to cope when bad things happen, and remind other people that while I hope you have the best of holidays this week, we also need to remember the people who are missing at the table this year.
There are candles lit all over the place right now for prayer vigils, Christmas, and Hanukah. Let’s all remember to take some time to look into the glow of candles and remember to breathe.
The top illustration is scratchboard with some screwing around in PhotoShop. The painting is something I did when I was first learning how to breathe on purpose and before I understood what cats look like. It’s also my first oil painting, when I decided I hate sticky paint.
Wishing everyone the joy and peace of the season!