Thought for the week: Gill Sewell breathes a word

‘A focus on my breath provides a discipline of focussed stillness and from that comes a sense of the divine…’

'...and breathe.' | Photo: Victor Garcia / Unsplash.

I recently finished bingewatching the first two series of The OA on Netflix. I had tried to make sense of the title, determining that ‘o-ei’ might be a modern rendition of ‘Yahweh,’ which I am told is an archaic third person singular imperfect tense of the verb ‘to be’, but which I have always thought of as the breath of god (maybe I watch too much Indiana Jones). So the lead character, who turns out to be ‘The Original Angel’ (no spoilers here), remains, for me, a vessel of the breath of god.

I have been turning this over in my mind for several weeks – we talk of ‘that of God’ in everyone, and this sense of the infill of breath being part of the divine resonates for me. I wonder about the outbreath: with every sigh, am I letting out a little of the divine? My special interest in breathing has come about because this really does seem to be the year in which I learn to breathe ‘properly’. While I have successfully managed to stay alive for some fifty-eight years, it seems there is an art to mastering breathing well. My first experience of this was on a mindfulness course where, over an eight-week period, I was given daily exercises in mindful breathing, stilling the body and moving my attention from head to toe and focussing on both the in and the out of breathing.

Alongside mindfulness, I have taken to the gym in a serious fashion – two sessions a week with a personal trainer (as part of a skills swap) and again being required to concentrate on my breathing. As I lift weights, I exhale and thrust. Then as I bring them down in a managed move, I inhale. Sometimes I get confused by the weights on a pulley, trying to work out whether I’m supposed to be watching my arms or the counter balance weights – and then should I breathe in or out?

There is then the further invitation to breathe in life and breathe out love. This means being conscious of the divine within me – from my first breath at birth until the last breath at my death. What I do with each breath is what counts. As I sat in Meeting for Worship recently I read Advice & queries 3: ‘All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength.’ I’m becoming increasingly aware that a focus on my breath provides a discipline of focussed stillness and from that comes a sense of the divine working through me – whether that is manifest in lifting weights, sitting in worship, watching TV or laughing with friends. There is enormous potential to make every breath count.

As my meandering thoughts held onto this idea (like the grit that becomes a pearl) I was reminded of the Police song: ‘Every breath you take… I’ll be watching you’ and yes, that is the nature of the divine – always present, always watching. In an ecumenical gathering I was once asked how Quakers know when god is present and I answered: ‘God is always present – it’s about whether I choose to show up and be fully present.’ Carry on breathing, friends!

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