We must fully reclaim the breath, because without it the body withers and so does our writing. The message written by the tight chest, the stilted body, carries no duende (a term used by the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca to describe the energetic instinct that guides creativity), no darkness, no belly stretched wide by the breath. Such writing is a mere whistle. It rises up like a ghost, substanceless, with a mask for a face, and we do not believe.
What must we do to reclaim the body, the breath? We must address the fear that paralyses us, the darkness we have held back, like stifled coughs and whispers. We must open ourselves allowing the wind to enter and change us.
When we human beings are scared, excited, hurried, or anxious, we stop breathing. the sight and sound of a distressing scene or the momentary flicker of past trauma, causes us to hold our breath. Shallow breathing is a way of stopping short, of postponing full involvement in whatever is going on. By shutting down our air supply, we can alter our consciousness. We begin to feel lightheaded, our eyes glaze over, and our emotions recede into the distance. The recede, they don’t disappear. To begin writing with the full power of our body’s knowledge we must welcome our life, our breath, and our emotions completely. We have only to begin breathing fully to show Life that we are serious about embracing her.
When we breathe deeply, we more completely inhabit our bodies, and yes, our pains, but also our contentment and our ecstasy. Unfortunately, we have made a habit of cutting off the breath in midstream. We allow our bodies just enough oxygen to keep the brain going, the vital functions operating at half mast. But it’s not enough air for us to feel this intricate, magnificent life.
“I’m ready,” you say. “I’m certainly willing to take deeper breaths, if it will bring my novel into being!” But once we begin embracing the breath, an inner battle ensues. The mind comes up with platitudes it has used for years to keep us in limbo. “There, now. Don’t be silly It’s not that bad. It didn’t really hurt. Crying won’t help. It’s water under the bridge, split milk, stiff upper lip, pull yourself together.” What the mind is really saying is, “Don’t feel. Forget it. We don’t have time for this. Get back to work!” These messages have had us by the throat for so long that we’ve forgotten we are in danger.
But also in childhood, now and then a comforting voice would offer real wisdom. “Slow down for a moment. Take a deep breath. What is it you want to tell me? Let’s count to ten and start over.” People who were breathing their lives not only encouraged us to take deep breaths, but showed us how to do it They invited the air in with their whole bodies, and so could listen with their full attention as we poured out our wild stories, our childhood worries and secret mistakes. By breathing fully, these listeners allowed our pain to pass out of us. They didn’t absorb our pain: they only listened with respect. I try to practice this when I do emotional release work in workshops. When I take full, deep breaths while someone else is experiencing wave upon wave of grief, I’m communicating that I not only encourage and welcome what that person is feeling but also that my own body will survive the process intact. In our search for mentors we must bear in mind that we need the support of people who live in their bodies, who aren’t just visitors in their own skin.
By following the breath, instead of always being led by the brain, you’ll find yourself in a places you didn’t “think” you’d ever visit. Going into these unknown places is motivation to write: indeed it’s the payoff. By breathing into your writing, descending into the body and its past, you will be able to see and report parts of your experience that were previously hidden from you.
John Lee, Inspiration : The Breath and the Word : Writing from the Body