The Fullest Breath You'll Ever Take


 I simply can breathe better in some contexts and struggle for breath in others. I am not someone for whom any old place will do. My tendency is to be choosey and particular and I therefore do not blend in easily wherever I go. Especially am I immune to parties that draw great crowds, where the feeling for me is of being quickly lowered down a shaft into the pit of a coal mine. 

 Usually I can recover the capacity to breathe fully in a corner away from people and from noise. There I am able to find some relief as I sit with my Bose or Audio Technica Noise Cancelling Headphones, while reading and listening to the internet radio station, Calm Radio. I'm trusting that heaven, too, will have places for introverts, away from the hand holding crowds singing hallelujah. 

 It's been a struggle all my life and continues - In what atmosphere will I be able to breathe freely? The question matters. Where do any of us belong? Where can we be, with whom, and doing what, where we're not gasping for breath? 

 "As soon as possible," advises the philosopher, Jacob Needleman, "be on the lookout for someone whose whole manner of speaking and being makes, as it were, a "sound" that draws your mind and heart." What "sound" is that? 

 I think that what is being referenced by Needleman is an intuitive sense we sometimes feel (with great joy and relief) that we have just met someone whose search for beauty and goodness is as intense and as vital as our own - or even greater, if we are truly blessed! 

 Needleman is commending an earnest search to find someone with whom to connect on the level of a shared understanding with regard to ultimate concerns. How's your life going to go, after all, if you live it without finding and experiencing such sacred connections? In time, I imagine, having lived without soulful relationships, we will take on the look of having been starved for a long time - a shrivelled up look, indicative of an energy deficiency.

 Not an unusual sight to see, I fear to say - of spiritually undercharged beings staring into space, looking vacant and lost, appearing perhaps like those whom St. John addressed in the book of Revelation: "You have (or had!) the reputation of being alive, but you're dead." (Rev 3:1)

 Just recently, to rid myself of that sometimes horrible feeling of being out of sorts with myself, I scrambled to get grounded by connecting with an old friend, the congenial spirit of the poet and playwright, Rabindranath Tagore, the first East Indian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1918. To reassemble myself, I watched a documentary about his life of holiness and integrity and in no time flat felt congruent, breathing evenly and freely.

 Tagore had a great mind but went beyond its limits, or rather, to its fullest capacity, to transcendental realms of mystery and joy! Tagore was a writer who could say so much in one clear, concise line, such as:  "A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it." 

 Tagore's stories and poems, all pointing to transcendence, were a great inspiration to one of the twentieth century's great philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was known to have read Tagore's spiritual writings aloud at the philosophy meetings of the logical positivists, just to irritate them. Wittgenstein sat reading the deeply mystical Tagore with his back to the positivists, demonstrating his disdain for their severely shackled mind-sets. 

 I have always been able to take deep, slow breaths while reading Tagore since discovering his writings at the University of Calgary library when I was still a Baptist minister. On one particular day of revelation I sat weeping on the library floor next to two huge shelves full of Tagore's books. The feeling was that my education had been deficient to have never learned of this great man.

 I had turned to Tagore for relief because for several days I been immersed in theological studies where "God was treated as "a purely external entity accessible only by faith - faith defined as belief supported by evidence or logic," (J.Needleman) - an approach that always leave me cold and unsatisfied.

 Now, it's not that I don't care about 'evidence or logic' - it's just that I am by nature oriented towards the intuitive and mystical side of things. Where there is an overly rational emphasis, I begin to tune-out.

 My heart needs to be warmed (at least a little!) to sustain attention. I find that I am soon struggling for breath in any context where there's an exclusive focus on 'left brainish' argument and debate. I always cringe and shudder when I witness heads knocking against heads, hearts disengaged. Something crucial, in my estimate, is being left out in this kind of approach.

 The missing dimension is what Needleman calls a "deep, essential feeling." He calls this certain level of feeling an "instrument of knowledge." This level of knowledge is regarded as powerful and essential, an integral part of our human nature - a part which, however, is all too often, neglected and buried.

 This "deep, essential feeling" might be described as a feeling that is deeper than feeling, or put differently, 'a feeling beyond emotion.' So the reference here is not to ordinary feelings or sentiments but to a level of 'feeling' that "comes from a different part of ourselves," from a part of us beyond the mind and ego.

 Father Anthony Bloom, an Eastern Orthodox priest, issued the challenge to find this deeper level of 'feeling' in order to facilitate spiritual transformation. What you do is this: "Settle down in your room at a moment when you have nothing else to do. Say "I am not with myself," and just be with yourself. After an amazingly short time you will most likely feel bored." 

"This teaches us one very useful thing. It gives us insight into the fact that if after ten minutes of being alone with ourselves we feel like that, it is no wonder that others should feel equally bored!"

 "Why is this so? It is so because we have so little to offer our own selves as food for thought, for emotion and for life. If you watch your life carefully you will discover quite soon that we hardly ever live from within outwards; instead we respond to incitement, to excitement. In other words, we live by reaction…"

 "We are completely empty, we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life which is actually fed in from the outside; we are used to things happening which compel us to do other things. How seldom can we live simply by means of the depth and the richness we assume that there is within ourselves."

 However, when through the practice of hesychia (stillness) we 'click into' this dimension of 'feeling,' we are in an inner sanctuary of inspiration. Resolutions are found there. Peace is found there. In that place, the mind's restlessness is arrested and the spirit soars!

  We are born with a capacity for such a level of feeling but it all too often is held back by the mind, which, as Needleman states is, by nature, 'atheistic.' That atheistic mind he describes as the 'isolated intellect.' For such a mind,"emotional knowledge is unknown." Such a mind, dislocated from the heart, offers up huge resistance against this deeper level of knowing. It fights against any threat to its place of dominance and control. Which confirms what I have observed over the years that, an atheist is a man at war with the heart.

 By referencing Tagore, Needleman and Bloom, I am applauding these men for having been instrumental in enabling a free and deep breathing that arises from entering the interior dimension of our lives and the encouragement then to live from this inner space.

 And yet there is even more than this! For there is a fulfillment possible such that we will be enabled to take, or should I say, receive, the fullest breaths we've ever breathed! This is when we come into the presence of Christ in the next age.

 The promise is made in the book of Revelation that "to him who overcomes, I will give a white stone and on the stone a new name written." (Rev 2:17) That is, to him who perseveres in the faith, there will come a revelation in the form of gift, a white stone with a certain name on it. It is your ultimate name, not your present one - Billy, Boo-boo or Betty Sue. You will receive that key, explanatory name that marks your uniquessness as a person!

 As Fr Bloom expresses it: "Scripture tells us that in the Kingdom of God each of us will receive a white stone with a name written on it, a name known only to God and to the one who receives it. This represents the unique relationship that exists between every person and his God, a relationship which is too deep for any other being to perceive or to understand, a depth in us which so so deep, so great, that none but God can plumb it." A previously hidden depth in each of us will be made manifest and named!

 That name is "the key to our very being, the key to what we are, the root and cornerstone of our being." (Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, Some Aspects of the Doctrine of Creation) 

 This is the Christian understanding that each of has a particular destiny. All our lives, if we are living in a vital relationship to Christ, we are moving towards a climax, or consummation. We are gradually being glorified and transfigured finally to attain a perfect and unique fulfillment by the God who loves us. 

 This is an emphasis upon the particular and the personal. Your destiny is not to be eventually lost in the cosmic soup but to be made more fully differentiated than we could ever have dreamed. The perspective here, as Fr Raimon Panikkar puts it, is that we are all "infinitely different," a radically different idea than what you will hear the new-agers say when they depressingly make statements like 'we're all the same.' 

 In contrast to the degrading sentiments of the new-agers is the ennobling sense we sometimes have of a human being's unique and particular potential. There are times it is noticed that someone is "revealed to us in a light and with a depth, with an awesome beauty which we have never suspected before!" (Fr Bloom) There before us is someone radiating the beauty of holiness! We are, I think, at such times, catching a glimpse of their potential as future gods or goddesses who will one day be bright and shining transfigured beings, as Jesus Christ was on Mount Tabor.

 All of our lives we have been struggling to overcome and to cast off what is false in us "as we search for our unique selves - our true selves - and yet we never fully find them."  (Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You p. 23)

 Thus this ever so short life of ours, so quickly passing away, is therefore but a prelude to infinitely more - an ultimate expansion!  

 As philosopher,Peter Kreeft, affirms: "There is a knowledge and destiny that awaits us. Our true identity is waiting for us."

 It is therefore really, really, really, true that we have only just begun. We are moving towards an experience of fulfillment beyond our wildest imaginings, when in the presence of Christ, in the presence of the God who loves and recognizes us, we will take the fullest breath we have ever taken. Glory to God!