Sharing Breath With The Seven Billion
As many meditators do, I was focusing on my breathe as I began my mediation one morning. Breathing in, I was aware I was breathing in. Breathing out, I was aware I was breathing out. I followed the breathe as it was drawn into my lungs, deposited oxygen to my blood, which was then pumped by my heart to the far reaches of my body and as it carried carbon dioxide out of the lungs as I breathed out. I marveled at the great miracle I was experiencing. The ability to breath was a condition of my continued life. I felt exceedingly special.
As I settled into the the meditation session, I experienced something I had never experienced before - that just as I was breathing in and breathing out, so were the other seven billion human beings on this planet. Old people and young ones, sick and well, men and women, Americans and North Koreans, Christians and Muslims, black and white. All were breathing in and breathing out every second or two. Regardless of their political philosophy or whether they were awake or asleep; regardless of whether their environment was hot or cold or whether they lived on the highest mountain or at sea level; regardless of what language they spoke or their level of education or whether they were rich or poor or hungry or full; regardless of whether they were walking or lying still. None of this mattered. For each and every inhabitant of this little planet was breathing with me and they were doing it at the exact same time I was breathing.
This was a profound insight to me. It was also an insight that caused me to ask how I couldn't have realized this long before. In truth, of course, I knew in an intellectual sense that all people on the planet breathed continually. But I had never before experienced it. That is the difference between knowing something intellectually and experiencing it.
This initial insight gave rise to a number of others over the following days and weeks. First, any sense of my separateness pretty much vanished. For how could I possibly feel separate from others when by simply returning to my breathe I could share one of the most fundamental activities and conditions of life with every single one of the other seven billion humans on this planet.
Second, I realized that breathing with the seven billion was too narrow a view because there was a lot more breathing go on than I at first considered. In addition to seven billion humans, there were dogs and cats and horses and pigs and lions and tigers and bears, plus birds and bees and innumerable more creatures. The seven billion was really so much more. In fact, there were uncountable billions of creatures on this planet that were doing exactly what I was doing - breathing in and breathing out every couple of seconds. And they did it minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, for as long as they existed, just like I did.
In a very real way, the whole planet was breathing, just as I was, in and out, every few seconds, day after day, year after year, century after century. And so it had been for millions of years. I was part of that stream - the stream of breathe into which all of us were continually submerged.
At this point, I was (and am) able during meditation to experience the joint breathing of all creatures mostly at will. After returning to my breathe, I soften my focus or attention and broaden the experience of my breathe to experiencing the breathe of all creatures.
I have once or twice experienced the breathe of not just this planet, but of all beings throughout the universe. It was really just a glimmer, a flash that lasted an instant and then vanished. But I know it's there and will continue to work on it, deepening the experience. There's probably a lot more here and I look forward to the joy of the continued exploration.
The insight of sharing the breathe of the seven billion has changed a lot for me. It gave rise to a fundamental and undeniable bond I didn't feel before. It's a bond I can return to and reaffirm any time I want by the simple act of breathing in and breathing out. This gives me indescribable joy.