The Blessing of Living

We’re pleased to share another guest post from Esraa Mohamed, who previously wrote posts on rituals and desires. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries.Today, she shares with us her own reflections about blessings; a blessing we all take for granted: simply being alive and healthy, breathing in and out.

Generally, I consider myself way too blessed, but sometimes life makes me too busy and I give a blind eye to all the blessings I have. Sometimes it takes loosing my breath to make me aware again.Cloud, Breath, Interfaith

Seven months ago, I had an allergy that took my lungs to the edge of a cliff. I felt death vividly inhabiting my ribs. And I swear I could sense my pleura gluing together. As I was faintly slipping to unconsciousness, I wanted to pick up my phone and tell somebody that I was dying. I wanted for once to tell somebody “Hey I am not okay, I need your help”.

I also wanted to hold my pen and scribble like a note of gratitude for the blessings I have taken for granted; my family, my friends, my health, even for the blessings I didn’t have.

My life flashed in front of my eyes, teasing me with the uncountable things I have taken for granted. And all what I wanted back then was one last chance to say thanks for all what I had. But my lungs brutally attacked for one last time, leaping the tottering guts out of my soul and I became too fragile to fight any longer.

My life dwindled amidst the agony of this night, so I sucked my nose into the cushion and cried God for mercy, for death, but even death was the tranquility that my situation couldn’t afford. I lost consciousness without any idea how did my lungs make it through the night.

I woke up to the morning breeze grateful to nothing more than being alive. I knew that I have left my lungs at the battlefield with all faith that they would make it for another battle yet to come. And I was really grateful for every little sip of sluggish breath.

Breath by breath, I realized that one of the biggest blessings that many of us, including myself, fail to cherish is simply the blessing of being alive. To live, to breath, even when it is hard, is truly a blessing.

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Equality in Stardust

By: Jenni Taylor

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.– Ecclesiastes 9:10

I am mesmerized by the mystery of the finite being part of the infinite. I find myself a part of the adolescent state of humanity wondering, “why are we here?” realizing it might not even be the right question to ask.

We are the small- we know it now, looking further and further out to the stars. We are self-aware of our ignorance. Now, when do we find our place in “the big”?

Death is said to be the great equalizer. It’s true. Our bodies fade away, breaking back down into the particles they first came from. Star stuff, they say, the dust of the universe. Good, bad, ugly and beautiful all sent spiraling together in equal amounts of very scientific gases.

Though our bodies are scattered throughout the galaxies in rather equal measures, I think about our equality on earth. The equality of breath, of oxygen flowing into our lungs at the same rate as every other person, and what we decide to do with that oxygen. How breath can become breath of life or breath of spewing hate. I think about the equality of giving, how it is bottomless and continuous and has nothing to do with the amount we start out with. I think about the equality of souls, each one precious, despite its smallness or its place in the world.

We are much more alike than different, and we all have tentacles reaching out from our hearts straining to connect with something, anything. We are equal in our emptiness, and we are equal in our capacity to fill the emptiness of others with love.

So, before we turn to stardust and the working, planning, knowledge and wisdom are all gone- let’s equalize our buckets, giving and taking, and help each other out on this journey to the stars.741060_10100356163796891_698349742_o

Waking Up

A Good Morning in Thailand

I’m tired of being tired. Not just the physical tired, but the emotional tired that comes with stress, living in another country, work, a busy life, and a multitude of other problems clamoring for my attention at any given moment. I’m tired of rolling out of bed and mechanically getting ready to hit the grind. I want to live my life, not just survive it.

So this week I am waking up saying, this morning is for ME. I will fill my own bucket with sunshine, peace and purpose before I go out and start filling the buckets around me.

I stretch. I put my arms over my head and breath deep enough my belly looks like a balloon. I take a moment to remember how incredible having life is, and how beautiful it is to take one breath, and then another.

I dance, sing, hum, or spend a minute listening to the birds or Spanish ballads. I put at least a moment of music in me because there’s something about having a song in your heart that brings joy.

I read. Right now it’s one or two verses from Ecclesiastes, or a poem by Dylan Thomas, or a moment with something I already know from my Chinese book to give me a little extra confidence. Words bring life, and I choose to put those words on my tongue like nourishing honey.

I soak in the sunshine. If there is no sunshine, I look at the trees and remember that they too are waiting for the sun to come back, and they do so with patience and grace. I try to stand tall like they do, and hope I will be as wise as they are some day.

I eventually get to work, have my breakfast, and drink my coffee. I try to remember to keep all the things from the morning in me, and to take another deep breath when needed.

Habits are hard to form. There will still be days when the thought of getting out of bed is painful in itself, when life seems too stressful to face, when the thought of doing it all again brings dread. But if I can breathe in and sing my blessings even one more time this week than last, I know I’m learning to wake up right.

When God Took my Breath Away

As we wind down this month’s theme of breath, we hear again from Michelle Willett who shares with us her encounter with God in Ireland. She shares with us the wisdom she encountered one day when God left her breathless.

I’ve had my breath taken away from me numerous times–a first kiss, a never-ending mountain range, a mewing kitten. But there’s only been one time where my breath has  been taken in a religious sense.  It was this past summer that I visited Ireland for the first time, a country that I had fallen in love with as soon as I stepped off the plane. I was in the town of Cobh, where the Titanic had last seen land before heading off on its perilous journey. I walked around the sites, saw the memorials, and I finished my journey by climbing up the small hill to the local church, which looked out onto the sea.

Cork_Church

After walking into the church, I realized I was completely alone. I had never been alone in any house of worship before, and it was a powerful feeling.  The statues, at the angels, the saints, the forms of God I was always skeptical of, took my breath away in a way I cannot describe, nor fully comprehend.

I found myself simply sitting at a pew and absorbing  the echoing silence around me for over an hour. There was just something about being alone in there, with nothing but myself, a breathing, shivering mass of humanity; there was something about all the stone, glass, and echoes of worshippers come and gone that got to me.

I had never truly believed in a god before; I wanted to believe I wasn’t alone but I just didn’t. Sitting there in that church, I was alone, but I had never felt less so. I couldn’t seem to leave–clearly God and I had some things to talk about. And talk we did, about  all the things I had never allowed myself to think and all the things I wished I could fix, both within myself and for those around me. We talked about how I could find and appreciate God in my own way, and how I could fill my own place in the world.

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Suddenly a middle-aged couple from Northern Ireland entered the church. The woman strolled down the center aisle for quite a while before spotting me, on my knees, with  tear stained cheeks , staring at the rows of saint and angels above me.  She gave me a small nod of understanding before moving on. Right then, I knew I was free to go.

I’ve never experienced such a powerful moment before in my life. But I don’t intend to let another twenty-four years pass by without letting God take my breath away again.

Mountain Breaths

By: Jenni Taylor

There were ten of us on this camping trip, all teenage girls with 40-pound army bags weighing down our bony shoulders and clipped across our growing boobs. We would hike, sleep under mosquito nets, and cook porridge over a fire or eat peanut  butter smeared on carbohydrates. We had a shovel named Doug for all of our necessities, and I think one roll of toilet  paper for all of us for the full two weeks. It was, I believe, what people call “roughing it”.

After days of this, I was tired. I was dirty. I was covered with cuts and bites. I was the last one in the hiking line and my bag towered a foot or so over my head. All the cooking pots and pans were attached to me too, rattling and clanging and bruising together with each step I took. Then, out of nowhere, we had to climb this mountain. This giant ass mountain, all in the brush, no path. I wanted to cry. I was behind, I was small, I was young, I was holding up the group. I wanted to just tumble back with my bag on top of me and lie face down in the dirt until life went away. But the girls held out their blistered hands to help pull me up, bit by bit, making a human chain; and while the pots kept clanging away and my muscles popped and ached, I found myself climbing higher and higher above the treeline.

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Photo by: Autumn Elizabeth

When we made it to the top of the mountain, it was raining. The heat rising from the trees hit the cold free air and we were suddenly above the mist, looking down. Everyone was soaked and covered with mud, rivets of water running into our eyes and noses and mouths and shoes.  I took off my bag, lifted up my arms to the sky, and laughed and cried and laughed again. Then I ate a snickers bar. It was the best snickers bar I had ever tasted.
I I still remember how deeply I could breathe on top of that mountain, how open it all felt. Somewhere in the silly tears of a teenage girl scratching her way to the top, the feelings of being small, insignificant and worthless had all faded away to the fact that I could do it. I could climb. I had loving people around me. I wasn’t alone. I could do anything.

Learning to Breathe

Today’s post is from Michelle Willett. She talks about the importance of breath, even when we ignore it, and how sometimes breath is all we have. So without further ado here’s Michelle on learning to breathe…

I’ve practiced yoga about five years now. I was immediately intrigued by the calm, yet demanding exercise, as well as yoga’s applications as more than just physical exercise. My first teacher was demanding, she never let us back down from difficult poses. When things became overwhelming, she reminded us to breathe through it, and I began to push beyond my former boundaries.

This simple idea has patched up many holes for me. Big and small, from screaming children to arguments with loved ones, there have been times where I reminded myself that I could do it if I just closed my eyes for a moment and focused on my breath.

At the end of a hard day, I often do a simple sun salutation in my room to let myself calm down and have a few moments where I let my mind turn off and focus on nothing more than breath and the life it gives. Such a simple thing, breath, something that you often occurs without a thought. Yet as I travel the world, see so many different things, experience so many different cultures, sometimes my breath is the only consistent companion I have .

Breath and Spirit

Today’s post is from Hailey Kaufman. Hailey is a student of  philosophy, biology, and religion at Webster University in St. Louis, MO, where she also organizes the school’s secular student group, encourages interfaith dialogue, and furthers scientific understanding. You can find more of her work on Tumblr and on her personal blog

What are the origins of the word “spirit”? Middle English borrowed it from the Old French word espirit, which could have referred to a variety of things but overall expressed the life essence, the vibrancy of life or something resembling life. Espirit comes from the Latin spiritus, which means breath.

Breath. Let’s think about that for a second. At its heart, to be spiritual means to exchange a life-giving wind with something, in some way. Breath is a fundamental constituent of a living being. When we breathe, we exchange particles with the world around us. To breathe is to ingest one thing for ourselves while chemically changing it into something else, then releasing it back. It’s cyclical, simple but powerful at the same time.

One of my religious studies professors once pointed out to me the resemblance some holy words have to the act of breathing. Amen, a kind of exhale to a prayer. Ra, the Egyptian sun god. Yahweh is a powerful word, so mighty that saying it has historically been taboo.

Think of the way we use the concept of breath in everyday language. We might say something about which we are passionate “breathes life” into us. When we feel existentially stressed or cramped, we say we need to “take a breather” or find “room to breathe” To return to our senses during a panicky moment, we “take a deep breath.”

This all indicates that for us, breath is to some extent associated with a much-needed sense of peace. Whether that peace comes in the form of relaxing us during our suffering, or whether it comes when we feel a connection to something meaningful, the principle is the same: breath is an orienting force, something that stills our worries and brings us into homeostasis.

Gods, prayers, angels, ghosts, fairies, alternative medicine…none of these things are necessary for a sense of spirituality. What is necessary is breath. What fills us with spirit can be anything that leaves us feeling tremendously small yet linked to a larger picture, like a knot in a net. There’s a fire in the heart that stirs us as that breath passes through. Spirituality is nothing more than that fire, and it burns somewhere in all of us.

Breathe it all in

By: Autumn Elizabeth

I breathe in the smell of incense at a Catholic church.   When I walk into a church, and smell that smell, I relish it. It reminds me of Christmas Eve midnight masses with my family, of Sunday mornings singing at church with my grandmother, of my baby brother’s baptism, and much more.

I breathe in the peace I find in watching the smoke of those incense curl and move and finally drift away. I think of each curl as a prayer being absorbed into the vast holiness of the universe. Each wisp a kindness that lingers just long enough to be noticed.

I breathe in the hurt and disappointment of the temporal nature of all things. Nothing stays except the holy, nothing is forever except the divine.  Like smoke we all disappear eventually, leaving only a vague impression of ourselves behind.

I breathe it all in. I breathe in that which is good, that which is mysterious, and that which is painful. I breathe it all in and know that it is the complexity of each breath that makes us human, and the unity of that breathe that shows us the divine.

Spare Change Spotlight: Yoga Gangsters

Terri Cooper, founder of Yoga Gangsters, once said that the most important thing we can teach to at-risk youth is how to breathe before acting.  This gift, of being able to take a moment before we act, of being able to live beyond fight or flight, is perhaps the greatest gift the universe has given human beings. Yoga Gangsters works with at-risk youth to cultivate that divine gift, and here is your chance to help them.

 

On Sunday, September 22, 2013 on the 7th Level of the Lincoln Road Parking Complex at 1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, Yoga Gangsters will host their 10th Annual Yoga Gangsters Challenge. At this is a fundraising event,  over 500 expected yoga practitioners and supporters with breathe through 108 Sun Salutations. Doors open at 9 am, yoga begins at 10:30 am.

If you are not in the South Florida Area, there is also an event on the 28th of September in Las Vegas and if you are not in those places no worries! You can donate now and join the Searching Sophia’s Pockets team. Donate 1$ for each Sun Salutations and then we will all breathe through our Sun Salutations together as a global community of spiritual sojourners.

So join us now and help to give the gift of breath youth across the United States, and maybe eventually, across the world.

 

 

A Prayer for Last Breaths

By: Autumn Elizabeth

As we transition from Loss to Breath, here is a prayer for the last breaths of this life.  I have found that there are lots of prayers for healing, or grief, but we don’t often consider how we will leave this life. I wrote this prayer as a prayer for a loved one, however, it can easily be converted into a prayer for oneself.  Please feel free to use this and any of our content in services, prayer groups etc., just remember to link it back to us!

Dear God,

I (we) ask that you make the last breath of my (our) loved one peaceful and pure.
Let them be filled with your divine love and wisdom.
Let their final breath be like a river meeting a stream,
as they end this life and are joined with the divine spirit of the universe.
I pray that their last breath resonates in the hearts of those they have loved,
and that no strife or hurt is done unto those loved ones with the final breath.
Above all, let their last breath honor the life they have lived,
and bring acceptance for its end.

Amen