I try to start each morning with ten minutes of meditation. I use an app to guide me, and it starts with a few moments of watching the breath as it comes in and out.
In yoga, we’re taught to move with the breath. In running, the breath is an indicator of how hard we’re working. In stressful situations or in times of anger, a deep, slow breath can calm our frayed edges.
The focus is always on the in and the out. It is an automatic process and yet something we can control if we think about it. Our bodies know how to breathe without our conscious efforts but our brain can also take over to drive the in and the out.
There is space between the in and the out. There is a moment when the out breath is over but the next in-breath has not started. There is a moment when there is no guarantee if the next breath is coming.
This space is difficult to be in. It is almost the absence of breath. It is not a normal place to be in, this absence of breath. It is a reminder of our mortality, of our fragility. Since there is so much focus on the in and the out, it can even feel wrong, to sit and notice this in between. Nothing seems to be happening, it’s merely a necessary physical transition point between the lungs expanding and deflating. We’re almost already to the next breath before the last one ends.
But this space between is where amazing things happen. The body is absorbing the new rush of oxygen, using it to create life in our cells. The lungs inject this oxygen into our bloodstream, where it is carried to every outpost in our body. Along with the food we eat, this oxygen creates life and energy within us.
As our bodies use this oxygen, a byproduct is created. Carbon dioxide starts to build up and takes up valuable space. It starts to alter our bodies’ chemistry and needs to be disposed of—not because it’s inherently bad (trees will soak it right back up), but because it’s no longer serving a purpose for us. It moves from our bloodstream back into our lungs and expired with our out-breath.
The space between the breath is really the place where our bodies are either storing or expelling our life force. The physical sensation of breathing in and out is a tangible process to focus on, and of course is the physical moving of the oxygen in and the carbon dioxide out of our bodies. It is something we can watch, observe, control.
The space between happens without us even being aware—our own bodies know which molecule to hang onto and which to let go. This exchange cannot be rushed, it cannot be controlled. It can only be watched and trusted.
Life is all about transition. If you’re anything like me, you like to control it. Something isn’t good, you want something else, you take concrete steps to bring in and let go of things or people or jobs or homes. Exchanging one for another. We celebrate and mourn the in and the out. We strive for the in and the out. We may sometimes rush the in and the out because the space in between is a scary place to be. Nothing seems to happen.
In life, as with our breath, this space between is the most uncomfortable and yet the most important part of our life force. It is a question without an answer. It is the churning, invisible exchange of what doesn’t work with what works, what we need with what we don’t. It is the place where our neurons are reconnecting in order to put ourselves in a place welcome a change, in order to know what the next thing may be, to make a fleeting thought reality through our words and deeds. It cannot be controlled or counted. It may last minutes or weeks or maybe even years. It is moving from one true thing to another true thing. It is about breathing in all the vital oxygen in our lives without knowing what it’s for, understanding and being afraid that we’ll need to exchange something for it—and although that something may not be serving us well anymore, it may not be something inherently bad so it’s hard to release.
This space between is where our truest self lives.