You Only Need One Breath
Never Send an 8 Year Old to Sunday School
I haven't really learned anything new since that radiant Spring afternoon when I was eight years old. After a beastly morning in Sunday school, I ripped off the stifling necktie and suit my parents made me wear to church, and put on musty jeans with a ragged tee-shirt, running barefoot into May weather. The sky was an immense robin's egg. Giant puffs of cloud tumbled slowly in the sunbeams, shimmering green on the grass, then gold in the wheat field all the way to the woods dotted white and pink with dogwood blossoms.
I gazed up into endless blue and, in the same instant, felt my feet rooted on the cool earth. I saw the essence of every religion from the dawn of history in that epiphany of earth and sky. And I knew it. I've studied them all for half a century since that moment, yet I've never found anything but a variation on that vision of ineluctable suchness in a schoolboy's heart.
"So this is what those old men in suits were trying to teach me in Sunday school!" I thought. "The sky is the Father. The Earth is the Mother. Standing between them, joining them like a lightning rod, I am their Son. This must be the Holy Trinity! But it only works when you run outside in your bare feet and put your body into it."
Here is how the universe taught me to breathe that day. At the crown of my head, where the baby has a soft spot, I visualize a bud unfolding into white petals, opening to the infinite sky. Blue sky is not a symbol or a day-dream, but the essential nature of consciousness: ever-expanding sapphire clarity of emptiness, where passing clouds of thought come and go lightly, without resistance. Breathing in from the crown of my head to my heart, every cell and every atom of my body fill up with that boundless blue. Christ became incarnate just to demonstrate this. I am here to experience the sky in each atom of flesh. Won't you join me in the universal body?
My spine is the stem of the flower. Having breathed the blue sky into my heart, I exhale. Awareness flows down the stem, out through the soles of my feet. I let all the chatter of yesterday, all the resistance of old thoughts, discharge their static into the ground. My root extends deep into the mothering darkness, to the center of the earth. When I need to release anxiety and fear, I can use this simple grounding breath. The key is not to make it esoteric, or technical. No one has to teach us how to breathe.
In Jewish mysticism, the Star of David depicts this breath: a down-pointing triangular flame from the sky meets the upturned triangle from the earth. They merge into a star at the heart. In the Yoga texts of India, this same symbol represents the heart center, hridaya, where Shiva and Shakti unite as Lover and Beloved. Mother Shakti rises up from the base of the spine, Lord Shiva descends from the crown. In early Christianity, the heart was the Bridal Chamber where Christos, the masculine energy of God, united with Sophia, the divine feminine. This is the mystery of Jesus and the Magdalene. It sounds quite esoteric in the Gnostic Gospels, but it's only the wild wisdom of a child running barefoot on the sunlit world.
The Garden is Now...
When my crown is open to the sky and my feet are rooted in the earth, I reclaim the innocence of Eden. I recover what St. Paul called the full stature of Christ, my birthright. No one can tell me this only happens in heaven, after we die! The Garden is Now. Creation is new each moment, and this human body is the Tree of Life. In the second century, St. Athanasius wrote, "God is humanity fully alive!"
When I practice this breath, I don't let the serpentine twists of the mind's doubt lure me to that other tree, the Tree of Thinking, clustered with opposites: good and evil, past and future, male and female. I rest in a silence free from the myriad polarities of the mind, at the center of the Garden of Now.
I breathe in blue radiance, crown to heart, then exhale into earth. I recognize who I AM, blossoming in stars, my roots clustered at the core of the planet.
The Church Is Here...I AM grateful. Breathing unites earth and heaven. Just to breathe is worship. I AM grateful. This is a good place to build my church: right here, right now. The body is my temple, its alter my heart. Sink the foundations in dark soil, my bare feet. Open the ceiling to the sky, crown chakra. There is no priest but me, offering creation back to Creator, distilled in the fragrant incense of one breath. I AM grateful.