Take a quiet moment here to take stock.
Notice how you feel. The invitation today is
to really just move with the breath and to
consider, perhaps, this idea that the
breath is your Spirit. What if the
breath was your Spirit?
Could we, perhaps, reconnect
to that notion. What if your breath
were your spirit, after all when you stop
breathing what happens? So, when, we say
'move with your breath' today, it's not just, ah,
the vinyasa, but it really is moving from a
place of connect, moving with your Spirit.
And the idea is if we become more,
practiced, and more conscious of
breath as Spirit, on the mat, we'll be
able to tap into that a little bit off the mat.
Using the breath, as we move through, Life?
But also being conscious in the way that we speak
to one another, and share. [...] What if your breath
were to be regarded as your Spirit, because,
again, after all what happens when you
stop breathing?[...] Would you cut it short,
would you ignore it? Or would you keep comin'
on back to try to figure out what is is, who it is,
how it feels?
Let your Spirit guide the way.
(Yoga with Adriene 2017, Healthy Energy Flow)
I’ve witnessed (experienced?) to two deaths, both being the departure of grandparents: Grandad on my father’s side many years ago, and Nana on my mother’s side just this past July. Both experiences were, of course, very different; still, both died in the same room, the same bed maybe, though years apart. With grandad, we saw him take his last breath. The moments leading up to this were slow and elongated. Most of his children were in the room, and several of his grand children. We were called over by my aunt, who stood by the bed. And under the amber hospital lights, we watched as his breathing slowed. Some touched his hands and arms. Others stood by with watery eyes. My sister and I, being somewhat estranged from this family, felt awkward, uncomfortable, and unsure what to do or how to be. We felt anxious, sad, and at a distance. They, our dad, aunts and uncles, seemed to know that “he was close.” I had no idea how they sensed this. But they were right. His breaths slowed and deepened, and became further apart, until his final exhale.
With Nana it was very different. In the same hospital room, in Squamish, Nana clung to her present for 7 days. The night it happened, like with grandad, we all knew that she was coming near to the transition. It is so strange to describe, this sense that we each felt; this knowing that she had begun to pass. It was uncanny and possessing. Those of us at the hospital were called, drawn, to her bedside. Forming a circle of nine, surrounding her, we coaxed Nana as she struggled to breathe. She began to inhale more forcefully, making crackling and deep gasping sounds followed by no sound. Her mouth stretched open and back, and her face contorted with stress. We found ourselves all placing our hands on her, calling her to breathe and calling her name. She finally caught her breath. We all exhaled with her and turned to each other in horror, releasing the tension with momentary hugs, tears and sniffles. After that first intense struggle, Brianna, Brenda, and Teash left the space and went into the next room to catch a breath. I heard someone say "I don’t want to see this," and someone else agree. But seconds later we were all around her bed again, circling her in a new arrangement, and in the dark because Brenda had turned off the lights (after much debate about whether or not we should have them on). I preferred the lights off, it was almost peaceful in the dim, dark room. A warm, amber light from the family area cast light into Nana's room, and Nana herself was illuminated by the rising full moon. She began to struggle again, only a few moments later, and again we had our hands on her, stroking and petting her. I ran my fingers over her face, tracing the outlines because Sebastian told me it’s very soothing. I then wondered aloud if we were all driving her crazy, which managed to cut through the tension by causing everyone to laugh and take a breath. Auntie Bunny leaned over Nana and told her “Nadine’s being a character.” And we laughed some more. We moved around again, rearranging our circle, and she began the process again. Auntie bunny was on her right, then Samantha, then Brianna. Brenda was at her feet, the nurse next to her, me, my mom and Teash around the top left side of the bed. We stroked her and spoke to her, almost chanting. Words of encouragement and love were repeated in rhythm as she continuously gasped and struggled, filling the room with intensity. In tandem we stroked her and told her to go; told her that we would be okay; told her that she did a great job and made an amazing family; told her she was very loved and we would meet again in the next realm. It was horrifying and magical. As she laboured out of this world, we laboured with her, each holding our breath when she couldn’t inhale hers. Finally, on her last deep, deep, gasping attempt to inhale, the liveliness in her face dissipated and we each gasped once more with her. She never exhaled, and because of this suspense clung in the air around us. That was when our circle disassembled and we each returned to our own breath in our own way and time. We hugged each other and cried. The experience was onerous and intense, but there was also something beautiful about the way we all had our hands on her and spoke to her under the moonlight as she passed. The feeling and emotions circling us were very conflicting and confusing.
To talk about life, we need to recognize our relationship to the concept of Death. Death defines life and vice versa; without death what would be of life? How would we know, recognize and measure life? Actually, I have come to think that death is life; death is another life, perhaps? A beginning of sorts...
While meditating the other day I felt my body expanding and separating and dispersing. I thought of Nana and saw/felt her expanding and dissolving. She wasn’t "dying" in the sens of disappearing from life and existence, but rather merging with other and various things; her consciousness/Spirit became many and added to many. Her attention was also dispersed and shared between many bodies/substances. She became multiple; all. She was everything and could sense from everywhere, from the table, the air, the mountain. I was her, and she everyone else too. And I heard that this ‘life’ we are doing is but a path, part of the journey, through to another world/phase/experience. We think that the life we are living is it, but it’s not. Death is just a door. And we are all on our way there, and should not fear this. I have come to understand "Death" as almost akin to the way we many see fetal development (the birth being the so-called beginning). So, I wonder, is physical life is but a developmental stage of existence? We are meant to learn important lessons on this journey; to learn from and with each other (all our human and non-human relatives). Death is an opening and a multiplying. Why should we fear this? To fear this is to be distracted from the important lessons we need to learn. Fear masks the movement and activity of "Death."
Many believe that life is dependent on our ability to breathe. Scholars go as far as suggesting that our breathe, and breathing, is a point of connection between various sorts of ‘others’—such as recent moves in Anthropology from a focus on the epidermis to the lung, theoretically. While I appreciate this, I also wonder: why the need to locate a single point of connection or difference? I believe that things are much more complicated than that. We do not need a battle for the perfect metaphor, we need to open our language and perceptions. I believe these questions are unanswerable, particularly with our current level of understanding and compulsion to identify and classify things; we need to learn to allow the fleeting and indescribable to have meaning, without the need of explanation or definitive origin. This is not to say we shouldn’t try and talk about our experiences, rather I am suggesting that we permit the vast difference of experiences and incomprehensible to be. As Richard Wagamese puts it, "Let the mystery remain a mystery" (2019).
Before Nana died she told me her views on life/death/existence:
“All we are is ‘electricity,’ for lack of a better word. Electricity doesn’t die, it changes. Besides, there are far too many old souls, old memories, and far too many people. They can’t all be new. Many of us must be reincarnated, I guess. When I go, I want to be released into the ocean. That way my body go home while my Spirit travels. We all come from the Earth and when our Spirit is ready, we return to our mother. I’ll be going home soon."
Then she asked me: "What do you think happens when we ‘die’?”
I had to agree with her, it is what I have know all my life; she and my mom and aunts have always said these things. I can’t say if this is true for everyone, and I don’t think it really matters anyway.
So when I think about this question of our breath and Spirit and life-force, I feel that breath might be one way that our Spirit manifests and moves us through this experience we call life—because, “after all what happens when you stop breathing?”