Monday, May 24, 2010

I Am Breathing

A peculiar and comforting thought came to me today while my students were taking a quiz: I am breathing. Of course, I’ve been breathing for nearly 69 years, but at that moment I actually noticed my breathing. As the kids were working on the quiz, I found myself simply following the flow of my breathing – in, out, in, out, in, out. Unlike my usual practice while in the classroom, I wasn’t doing anything – not organizing my desk, not checking my email, not grading quizzes from an earlier class, not going over the lesson for the next class. I was simply observing my breathing -- and, quite honestly, I was fairly surprised by it. I guess what I found most intriguing was the fact that the breathing was being done without my help. This perhaps seems obvious – yes, of course, our lungs do breathe routinely, even when we’re sleeping – but it was a bit of a bombshell to me as I stood in a square of sunshine by the window. It was like a startling disclosure: I don’t have to do anything to make my lungs work. My lungs were rising and falling due to some force other than my personal willpower, and they’ve been operating in this autonomous way for all the moments of my life. I stood silently with this awareness as the kids finished their quizzes. I felt my lungs reliably lifting and falling on their own, and, when the students had handed in their papers and left, I turned and saw spring tree limbs unreservedly swaying and sunlight overspreading some stepping-stones, all with no assistance from me. It was good to realize, once again, that this far-reaching universe finds its own wonderful way without my particular help. I looked down at the quizzes on my desk and knew they would get graded, somehow, with precision and ease.

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