Humans have an uncanny ability to domesticate everything they touch. Eventually, even the strangest things become absorbed into the routine of the daily mind with its steady geographies of endurance, anxiety, and contentment. Only seldom does the haze lift, and we glimpse for a second the amazing plenitude of being here. –John O’Donohue
A few years ago, I found that my life had become curiously flat.
I had everything I needed to survive–food, shelter, creature comforts–and moved through my days in a haze. Each day looked more or less the same. Get up. Breakfast. Work. Sit at a desk. Eat snacks. Go home. Sleep. Sometimes I spent time with friends.
Not a bad life. A domesticated life. A luxurious life, in fact.
But the familiarity of the day to day routine, repeated endlessly, dulled my senses. Food became bland and I took to eating absurdly spicy dishes just to break through the haze. I’d find myself blinking at the end of each week wondering where so many hours had gone, unable to remember much of what had happened over the preceding days. I became a ghost drifting through the faint contours of my own life.
Come to find out that I wasn’t alone. This dulling of the senses, and the feeling of isolation and even despair, that comes along with it is endemic in the developed world. The conventional, western style, antidote is pills. Medication to juice up the system.
A far more effective and long-lasting intervention, in my mind, is to break the routine. To bring liveliness and awareness back into the day to day world by ‘re-presencing’ ourselves.
Unfortunately, ‘re-presencing’ often happens due to a moment of violence or tragedy. A car accident. A medical diagnosis. An earthquake, flood, or fire. These occurrences focus our attention, reminding us that the predictability of our lives, even the solidity of the earth itself, is an illusion and inviting us to move differently in the world.
The good news is that we don’t have to wait for the world to intervene. We can ‘re-presence’ ourselves. And when it comes to this re-presencing, the breath is our most powerful tool.
We breathe over 20,000 times per day. For the most part, this happens unconsciously. Our body knows what to do and does it, more or less functionally, to keep itself chugging along.
Breathing, in other words, is the most routine thing we do throughout the day. If we can re-introduce a sense of sacred presence and connection to the breath, that depth and texture can transfer into our broader lives.
Let’s explore three dimensions of connection contained within the breath.
The first dimension of connection is with the self. This is the foundation of most breath-based practices: bringing awareness to the feeling of the breath entering and leaving the body. Connecting with the breath, and the energy it brings to the cells helps us reestablish a link with ourselves and the processes that happen in the background in each moment to keep us moving.
As you breathe in, imagine the oxygen flooding into the cells. As it penetrates through the cellular membrane, it fuels the mitochondria, allowing the cells to power up and do their work.
As you breathe out, imagine all the spent energy leaving the body as you prepare for an infusion of new, fresh energy with the next inhale.
You can go as far as you’d like with this visualization. Imagine energy, carried by the breath, as a current running through your veins and capillaries, washing away indifference and bringing fresh energy to every cell, organ, and muscle in the body.
Pretty cool, right?
The second dimension is connection with the world around us. As you breathe, bring awareness to the fact that the molecules of air entering your body might have been inside someone else less than 10 minutes ago. A day ago, they may have been inside a giraffe in Africa, a political leader, or a prisoner half a world away. Each breath is quite literally a point of connection with every plant and animal in the known world. Imagine where the particles moving through your body may have been moments ago, a week ago, a year ago and allow yourself to perceive yourself as part of a vast web of connection and exchange.
Finally, the third dimension of connection stretches across time. Because matter can neither be created nor destroyed, the molecules we breathe have been around in one form or another since the beginning of time itself. And they will be around, in some form, until the end of time.
As you breathe, imagine yourself participating in a process that extends from one end of time to the other. With each breath, you are part of a vast interconnected web of inhales, exhales, and exchange. You are at once a miniscule part of the web and utterly indispensable to its function. Without your breath, the system doesn’t work quite right!
Whenever your world starts to feel a little flat, dull, or routine, trying taking a few deep breaths and invoking these three dimensions of connection. Connecting deeply with the breath even once a day can help foster greater presence and invite a sense of the sacred into your life. If we can bring a sense of mystery, wildness, and surprise to the breath, imagine what is possible in even the most 'domesticated' corners of life.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.