by Steven Saus
Just take a deep breath. Go ahead. No one is watching.
Exhaling, I complete yet another sit up and stop. It’s not the burning muscles or the hard ground that stop me – it’s what I see above the ground. The afternoon sky is awash in watercolor grays, light shimmering over steely clouds layered like oil paint. They don’t resemble anything, no bunnies sculpted in water vapor. It’s just the beauty of the colors that takes my breath away. Something alerts my still-exercising friend that I’ve stopped; she asks me if there’s anything wrong.
“It’s just the clouds. They’re beautiful.”
She glances up, shrugs, and begins another repetition.
I am often distracted by the clouds, by the play of light on the bobbing leaves of a tree, a wheeling majestic bird of prey circling over the highway whose motions are echoed by the twirling of a falling leaf. Sometimes I’ll just stop in my tracks and look around in wonder.
Breathe. Feel the air, feel it flow down your throat and fill your lungs.
He is pouting, even though he just ate pepperoni pizza, his favorite. It’s about dessert – or rather, the lack of it. My son wants ice cream, a candy bar, just SOMETHING for dessert. He can’t comprehend why tonight there simply isn’t any. He reminds me that he’s done eating – that was his part of the bargain, right?
I look down at the magazine I’m reading; the article is about children a year older than he carrying AK-47s in a civil war they did not start. There are no overflowing boxes of toys like the ones his room, there is no pizza place that can deliver to them, let alone in thirty minutes or less. The photographed eyes of a child who has seen combat pierce me, and somehow I cannot work up the appropriate sympathy over the lack of dessert.
Breathe. Use your diaphragm. Feel your stomach swell, your lungs inflate. Stretch your chest, ribs spreading to accommodate all the air. Notice exactly how it feels.
We have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world – and one of the highest rates of clinical depression. A staggering proportion of the population is obese – yet people die due to eating disorders and diet plans every day.
Perhaps it’s our vast dissatisfaction – a gaping hole we try to fill with shopping, eating, drinking, even sex. A dissatisfaction that comes from a lack of appreciation. We are excellent at listing what we don’t have, what we want to gain, what we want to change.
We rarely pay attention to what we have.
Even on Thanksgiving, that day of family reunions and slaughtered birds, we stuff ourselves until we are sick of birdflesh, and loathe the leftovers that would be gratefully eaten, half-rotten, by one who had nothing.
We are told that all men are created equal, even though we know that’s a lie. We hear that we have a right to the pursuit of happiness, and mistake that to mean that we have a right TO happiness. We think that if you just play by the rules, play fair, bend the rules, cheat, maybe even if you pray just right, that you’ll get everything you want and it’ll all be okay.
We say “I need” when we really mean “I want”. We tell ourselves “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” – and forget it five seconds later.
We drive ourselves insane with the wanting, the longing, with the feeling that the grass is always greener, that maybe we’re missing out on the one thing, the vital thing, that we never knew we wanted until we
saw it on TV.
My son enters stores and solemnly informs me that he wants to buy something. When I ask him what he wants, he tells me he doesn’t know yet – he hasn’t seen it.
Take your worldview in your hands for a minute, and rotate it just a little. Give up your assumptions. Try it – just for a minute. Stop thinking that you have a “right” to see, a “right” to hear, to feel, to smell.
Forget that you have a “right” to live.
Suddenly, life is precious again. Your boss’ annoying voice becomes music. The child incessantly pelting you with questions, demanding your complete attention, is now an angelic creature from heaven. The feel of your muscles aching after a hard run is sweet bliss. The smell of your spouse’s hair, long ignored, floods your senses with joy.
Remove the idea that you have a “right” to live, and every instant becomes a precious gift. Every moment is a treasure, every touch exquisite, every smell is perfume, every sight a beautiful painting.
Every breath a blessing.
This work “Breathe” is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Please note that the image on this blog post is not part of the Work.
(originally written in 2000, posted on several different sites, since decommissioned, so reprinted here now.)