To breathe—always taken for granted. Especially considering that, “I can’t breathe,” was basically the tagline for last year.
We are the breath. We can’t live without it, and there’s no it without us. We’re entangled. We also are the breath—the particles we exhale were part of us, and the ones we inhale become part of us.
Breathing is the most readily available proof that we’re not separate from everything else. We’re constantly breathing in what others breathe out and others are breathing us in too. Breathing in, everything becomes us; breathing out, we become everything.
There’s space in the breath, moments between inhale and exhale. Without that space we wouldn’t be able to breathe. The breath relies on the absence of itself. Without those moments of non-existence, it couldn’t exist at all.
Everything’s like that. Everything depends on its own absence.
Things are about to get weird, so stick with me. If my breath was the only thing in the universe, if it was infinite, then there would be no breath because what am I going to breathe? After all, you can’t breathe your breath. Just for shits and giggles, let’s call that the “Infinity Paradox.” We can breathe because our breath is absent in 99% of the universe.
We can’t be born if we’re already alive. I was born on October 3rd and haven’t been born again since. We were born because, for 16 billion years, we weren’t here. We depend on our absence in both space and time.
One day, we’ll be absent again. Our breaths will be absent too. It has to be that way, we all have to die. If not, we’d be immortal, and as we already saw with the Infinity Paradox, boundlessness nullifies whatever it is that’s boundless. We could call this one the “Eternity Paradox.”
Something can’t exist if it’s always existed. Since I haven’t always existed, that means I can’t keep existing forever, and that’s why I can exist. Ha-ha! Absurd!
Entanglement is our respite from death. Sure, when we die we die, the subjective we dies. But the objective we—all of the stuff we’re made of—keeps going. We are the air we breathe, we’re oxygen and carbon dioxide and a thousand other things. This is the mystical, salvific side of science that society hasn’t really embraced yet. It’s real religion, grounded in facts and reasoning rather than faith.
Well, I guess there’s still the faith in facts, but that’s a topic for another time.
Just looking at the breath showed us all of that, and it can show a lot more. All the secrets of the cosmos are right there. As Shunryu Suzuki said, “If you understand one thing fully, you understand all things fully. ”
Study the breath; look for answers in it. Get a Master’s in Breathology.
Wherever you are, all of the teachings are right there.
Editor: Dana Gornall