Sometimes I forget to breathe. I’ll notice that I haven’t taken a deep breath in the last hour (or week) and, standing by the sink in the kitchen or staring into the pixels of my computer screen, I’ll consciously make the effort.
I’ve spoken to plenty of people who feel the same: we’re shallow breathers. But given how wonderful that first deep breath feels, wouldn’t we love to breathe a little deeper all the time?
After all, the air is right there, waiting for us to swallow it down to the bottom of our lungs. There are deep, inexhaustible breathfuls of air all around us, all the time. And breathing can do wonderful things.
Air doesn’t care whether we clear landmines for a living or make bullets for child soldiers in the Central African Republic. No matter: air is there for us.
Air gives us breath in abundance: we take as much as we please, almost without noticing. And, on the exhale, we pump out that sweet, sweet carbon the trees thrive on.
Breath in, breath out: the atmosphere is kept in balance. It is the base unit of our existence—and the existence of every living being on the planet. Air must be circulated. Without circulation, the whole system breaks down.
This is exactly like love.
Love is nothing special. Love isn’t something that we have to mine from the sweat of our brow. Love isn’t something tangible like fruit or clothing. It’s not even something purely conceptual like war or money.
It’s like the air: almost ludicrously abundant, the fundamental currency of life. Intangible, but real; everywhere, but invisible.
We might not be able to see the air, but we can all feel it: the rustle of the wind in the trees or the almost imperceptible caress of a zephyr on our cheek. At other times, the air is master of our existence: trapped inside a hurricane or in a storm on the high seas.
So too love: if we stop we can usually feel love even on the calmest of days. But love is no less there even when we can’t perceive it, in the same way that the air is no less there because we can’t feel the wind or see the trees swaying.
We don’t need to notice or think about the air in order to breathe. All we need to do is let our autonomic system do its thing.
Like the air, love is always there for us, unconditional. We only need to open our nostrils, throat and lungs and breathe: love in, love out.
Of course, neither air nor love are always entirely wholesome. We have polluted air and we have polluted love. Most people some of the time have moments when they find it hard to breathe—most people some of the time find love hard to feel, detect, receive or return.
But tapping off another living being’s supply of love is akin to standing on the hose that pumps oxygen into the lungs of a ICU patient.
Maybe, I thought one morning as I awoke from an aural dream, maybe I’m worrying too much. Maybe I’m trying too hard. Maybe I don’t have to do anything for love except let my autonomic system do the easy work: breath in, breath out.
The out breath is important. We can’t stockpile air: we’d explode. We can’t stockpile love either. Love is desperate for circulation. Without circulation, the whole system breaks down. So we don’t hold our breath: we breathe out.
My breathing is shallow. Next time I’m standing by the sink or staring into the pixels, I’ll imagine I’m breathing in all the love in the world—wouldn’t I breathe deeply then?
And wouldn’t I breathe out as deeply, because I want to share this carbon with the trees and this love with all living beings.