By Cathy Rowan
We start with Addie guiding me into that low-gear mode of being with my body within the environment. I open to the weather outdoors, the room I am in, the quietness of it, and Addie with me on the screen.
I open to this and then also to the contact of all this with my physical body. I am sitting on the chair, the warm air on my hands and face. Once again, I am turning my attention to the air as it enters my nostrils. Once again, I am opening to the dance of life that is me living now.
The Breath, Expansion and Recession
I welcome this expansive experience. The air is flowing through my nostrils, down my throat, and into my chest. It is spreading outwards through the whole of my body. Just being with all of this and noticing too now the feel of the breath as I exhale. The in-breath is one that grows and expands my body, I get subtly and yet perceptibly physically bigger….and then the moment comes when the breath starts to pull back. Not to retract…that does not fit. Retract implies a pulling back and stopping–an ending.
The experience is a receding, it has the quality of the wave as it pulls back on the beach, and yet already it has within its movement a getting ready to come forward again as the next wave. This is just how the exhaled breath is in me. Each receding, pulling back of the breath, has within it the kernels of the new breath that is to become the next wave of air to be drawn into me.
This whole breathing pattern within me is a circular cycle. It is three dimensional — a 3D circular cycle that makes a spiraling. The spiraling is variable – some spirals are more significant, some smaller, they are not copies of each other, they are all different. They are not uniform; some are jerky, uneven even, they are not manufactured “tins of baked beans” breaths that are predictable and repetitive. No – they are all unique and different. Each a different flow, a diverse and individual dance. Each just what I need right now, for this moment, in this place, at this time.
I am with the out-breath withdrawing, with its sense of receding and yet here too are its kernels of expansion so it can go forward again…. I notice how my fingers are slightly apart as I breathe in and then come together as I breathe out. Then the next breath in the fingers opens again – only to once again enter into a withdrawing. It is coming together to make more room for expansion. And so the spiraling dance of the breath unfolds its unique flow of “aliving.”
Aliving: this is this dance of expansion and withdrawal to take in and then release the breath. And as I sit with this, a spontaneous full-formed sentence comes “until we die we are always dancing, our breath is always dancing the breath of life…until we die.”
Breath, Life and Death
A body memory comes of me sitting with my father dying – his breathing becoming increasingly difficult. How the spiraling got more and more drawn out, each out-breath having a little less energy to give to the potential for a new in-breath. Finally, there was no more receding energy in his out-breath- it was the only retraction. I can recall now how this felt tangibly different. He had finished his dance of the breath of life. The life-energy could no longer keep going, and I saw it stop. In his final out-breath, there were no kernels of the forward movement that would create the next inhale. The out-breath was his last step in his dance of life.
This experience of how the breath faded away and then stopped had a profound impact on me then, particularly concerning “following the breath” practices. Almost a decade later, it continues to fascinate me now. I felt then I had witnessed the core of what gives life and what takes away life. And as I sit here and am with my breath now, I realize each breath is a gift of life. And that this dance is not just about life, but it will be one day be about death for me too. Life and death: this is what the breath is all about.