It is difficult at times to really understand mortality, the temporary nature of the life in which I am so totally immersed. At the very moment that I am coming to fathom interdependence and the conditional nature of everything, I am challenged to understand myself as eternal. Okay, I do get that conceptually, and even the laws of physics encourage me to think about matter forever transforming in its particular shapes or definitions but not disappearing in its most essential aspects.
My strongest help in all of this is the breath itself. I can so completely understand myself as a container for the breath. The air, the particles and the movements of the air, are part of me. What I breathe in, I become. What I breathe out, I release. Today I was sanding ancient paint off a century old door that will open one of these days into my small upstate yoga studio. I wore a significant mask, not just the flimsy filter type. The idea was that I was not going to breath in the little particles sent flying by my sandpaper. I took this action because we now know that what we breathe in, we absorb into our cells, with varying effects and I wanted to avoid the effects of breathing lead paint chips.
So now I watch the wind blow through the leaves; I feel it cooling me as I work in the yard. I know in a profound way that it will blow through me too. My substance in this format is here now. My lungs drawing and expelling the air define me as a living creature. When that stops, I will not be this living creature any more. Yet the air will continue to bellow in and out of all the other living beings in any given moment in time. Sometimes I find small fossils in the rocks around me here in Gilboa, NY. They were also breathing in their day. Their essential qualities still exist in some format, not just the imprint they left here when all was under the sea so many years ago. And so I understand that my own aspects will remain, not just the ash I may become, or the particles of earth and dust, not just in the effects I may have had on others who live beyond my own years here.
Breathing helps me be present in this moment fully. That is fundamentally why I begin every yoga practice and every class I teach by drawing attention to the breath itself. In every moment the breath informs me of my mortality and my immortality; allowing me to understand the conditional world, and the eternal as well.