from Aumdoc’s Holistic Healing archive (circa 2003)
Everyone would agree how important our breath is. It is our life source. With every inspiration (in breath) we feed our physical selves down to every cell, bringing in life giving oxygen. This oxygen is given to us freely by every green plant on the planet! It is transported by our red blood cells to every nook and cranny of our being, allowing our life to continue. Our breath is also full of life force energy (called prana in yogic systems) which feeds us energetically. With every exhalation (out breath) we release the carbon dioxide, that has been created by our metabolism, that we have no use for and, in fact, must be released. This release is our return gift back to the green plants, it is their life giving molecule. They feed us oxygen and we feed them carbon dioxide, and we share in our exchange of prana. This reciprocal relationship between the green plants and us is a perfect example of the Andean spiritual principle of Ayni, meaning Sacred Reciprocity. It is a reciprocal balanced relationship honoring of all parties; “Today for me, tomorrow for you.”
It is fascinating that our breath is a body function that is both unconsciously controlled AND is directly under our influence. The breath continues autonomous of our conscious experience, whether awake or asleep. Yet we can control our breath, our exchange with the natural world, our inner connection to Ayni. This is one reason why so many spiritual practices, and healing modalities, use the breath as a path to both liberation and becoming healthy and sound, in mind, body and spirit. As modern urban individuals we tend to be very disconnected from the rhythms of Mother Earth and the Natural world. The most simple and easy way to start to reconnect is by focusing on breath in meditation and other practices.
Our first breath (when we are born), and our last breath (when we die), are two particular breaths that are somewhat different then all the others. Witnessing these two breaths can be a sacred experience, one worthy of honor and respect. Witnessing these breaths can bring us fully into the present moment, the now. When we see someone being born, or dying, we rarely are worrying about the drama of our life. We are usually just present, and in awe, of the moment. I believe witnessing these two breaths are very important to our experience of life. They help us to understand our physical mortality and the fragility of this world. They tend to set us straight as to what is really important in life. They cause a deep reflection on who we are and who we want to be.
These two sacred moments, the first and last breath, have been culturally removed from our common life experience (referring here to our modern life in the USA). For most of us we grow up never witnessing either one. Our training ground for dealing with these moments has been removed. The benefit we personally receive from witnessing these breaths has been removed. In the recent past (let’s say 100 years ago), everyone had these experiences in their lives because they occurred within the multi-generational home. We intimately came to know the true experience of women giving birth, both the joyful and tragic outcomes, which were intimately witnessed and experienced. And the same applied to our passing, and to our last breath.
Witnessing both the good birth/death and the traumatic birth/death helped give us proper expectations of what life is really like. It is foolish to think that all births occur with ease and with perfect outcome of healthy mother and baby. There is a baseline of maternal morbidity (harm) and mortality (death) that occurs. And a baseline rate of serious congenital abnormalities. And in the modern USA we have a big problem with horrible maternal morbidity/mortality rates, often made much worse due to socio-economic and racial consideration. Though, in our litigious society, we often look to place blame when things don’t come out right.
I have been at deaths that were truly and absolutely beautiful to witness. And I have seen deaths so traumatic that I am still negatively impacted by their memory. This was especially true during my years of medical education when the death of a hospitalized patient, without a ‘do not resuscitate’ order, obligated staff to call a code and perform traumatic resuscitation despite the fact that chances of success, and an ongoing quality of life, was extremely unlikely. And often times callous medical trainees saw these situations as an opportunity to learn and thus eagerly participated. This lead to an extreme dehumanization of the patient, and student, even if skills were learned that might have been helpful in a different medical situation. This was all very traumatic to me as I was both a witness, and participant in, these events.
We can be deeply healed by witnessing the awe of these breaths. I am thankful to my spiritual grandmother, Elizabeth Gips (www.changes.org) for teaching me about what a good death is. She knew she was dying and called for a “Life and Death Ceremony” for herself with friends and family. My brothers and I had the opportunity to help facilitate this event. About a month later she passed in her bed at home, with many loved ones holding space for her in many ways. So beautiful it was.
These sacred spaces, of first and last breath, being removed from our common experience is part of the overall disconnection most people have from the rhythms of the natural world. Our modern life, and attitude, tries to set us apart from the natural world making it just something there as a resource for us to use. For example we are disconnected from the light and dark cycles, the seasons and where our food comes from (and what it actually is).
It is my personal opinion that this disconnect from the natural world is a root cause of much of what ails our modern society and individuals.
For most of the new mothers whom I assisted, during my 12 years of Obstetric Practice, and their family members, it was the first delivery they had ever witnessed… their own!!! In fact, the home birth of my first child (during my second year of medical school) was the first birth I had ever seen. And the first death I ever witnessed was during my initial training years in the hospital as a medical student. These sacred spaces being removed from our common experience contributes to the overall disconnection most people have from the rhythms of the natural world.
I could plainly see in my patients how this contributed to their fears and inappropriate expectations around these events. Fear often develops when something is mysterious and we are unfamiliar with it. Especially when the consensus of society reinforces that fear. This is one reason why it is SO IMPORTANT to draw around you those that do not reinforce these fears… Wise Woman (and men). The easiest way to be dissatisfied is to have unreasonable expectations. Such inappropriate expectations include… every baby will be perfect and no woman will ever be harmed by childbearing. It is my opinion that delivering a child is the closest to danger (even mortality) that most women will ever come to in their life! Our cultural expectations of perfection is a great source of distress, dissatisfaction and litigation.
In our culture these experiences have been delegated to the hospital temples of the medical clergy. Today most women deliver in a hospital. While home birth is increasing in the US, less then 1.5% of women deliver in the home in America. About 30% of Americans die in the home, surrounded by friends and family. This number is increasing thanks to home hospice care. I was surprised to find that number was as high as it is!
For most of the new mothers whom I assisted, during my 12 years of Obstetric Practice, it was the first delivery they had ever witnessed… their own!!! In fact, the home birth of my first child (during my second year of medical school) was the first birth I had ever seen. And the first death I ever witnessed was during my initial training years in the hospital as a medical student. These sacred spaces being removed from our common experience contributes to the overall disconnection most people have from the rhythms of the natural world.
I could plainly see in my patients how this contributed to their fears and inappropriate expectations around these events. Fear often develops when something is mysterious and we are unfamiliar with it. The easiest way to be dissatisfied is to have unreasonable expectations. Such inappropriate expectations included… every baby will be perfect and no woman will ever be harmed by childbearing. It is my opinion that delivering a child is the closest to danger (even mortality) that most women ever come in their life! I may be biased, having witnessed unexpected problems developing over the years. I am quite certain a midwife would have a very different perspective on this issue! Our cultural expectations of perfection is a great source of distress, dissatisfaction and litigation.
♥ Breath is Life ♥
Aumdoc’s Birthing Haiku
(for Sarah S. on the birth of Talon) :
Pink Lotus Opens
Goddess cries to the heavens
New One shares our breath!