Sometimes, we end up at just the right place at just the right time. Such was the case last week, when I found myself in a room with thirty other individuals, trusting our breath and meditating on trees. How I arrived here isn’t important–it was simply the right combination of changed plans and obstacles that landed me the seat, and I knew as soon as the evening began that I was in the right place. “It’s like a group meditation,” my mother had said, as if trying to convince me to go, “and it could be good for you.” It’s no secret that times have been hard. Everyone has felt it, and the more sensitive you are, the harder it becomes. It showed on the faces of everyone in the room that night, a shadow under the eyes, a crease between the brow, a tension in the hands… yet by the end of the evening, they had all melted away, replaced with ease and empowerment.
Al Fuentes sat in front of the window, a travel-cup of tea at his side, looking every bit the part of the guru. But when he began to speak it became clear that he wasn’t some inaccessible spiritualist at all. In fact, he’s incredibly down-to-earth. Sure, he has stories about meeting enlightened masters in India, but he has equally engaging stories about having his iPhone stolen at the DMV. Anyone who compares one of the most profound human experiences to a cheese pizza has to have both feet planted firmly on the ground and at least one in the modern American world–surely, swamis don’t eat Dominos. To Al Fuentes, Enlightenment isn’t at the top of a mountain somewhere in the Himalayas, or at the end of a long and trying religious path. According to Al, the first step towards Enlightenment is simply taking a breath.
Take a breath. Go ahead, do it. Take a real breath, a conscious, considered breath in through your nose. Think about that breath and all it’s doing for you. Think about why you breathe. Feel the breath filling your lungs, feel the oxygen absorbing into your bloodstream, feel your cells receiving that nourishment. How did you know that breath would satisfy so much need? Trust. Every time you take a breath, you trust that you’ll be getting oxygen, and that your body will synthesize it. Every day, you could breathe over 28,000 times. In any given minute, you might breathe twenty times. That’s twenty demonstrations of perfect trust in the universe around you. Twenty times when you share control over your life with a totally unseen force–you might command the breath, but the universe ultimately decides how the action is fulfilled.
But breathing is a two-part action. You breathe in and demonstrate perfect trust, but you also breathe out. For each time you take in nourishment from the universe, you release as well. You cleanse your system of things you no longer need. You never hang on to the carbon dioxide that your body has produced–it’s a waste product and it would poison you. Almost reflexively, you purge it. There are so many things in our lives that poison our well-being, things we cling to out of habit or comfort. We don’t need them. Think about it: when you read that statement, your head turned over several things that you know you don’t need in your life. Clothing that no longer fits, tech gadgets that no longer serve your purpose, maybe even people that no longer uplift and support you. Letting go can be scary–what if you need those things later on? What if you feel lonely or empty once they no longer take up that space? In reality, you’re only holding your breath. Breathe out. Now breathe in again. The universe restores what you might have lost, and fills those empty spaces with things you truly need.
We share our breath with millions of others, every day–other people, other creatures, other things. We breathe the same oxygen as our partners, our friends, our family. Our exhalations provide an abundance of chemicals needed by flowers, grass, and trees. And in addition to trusting and letting go and sharing the cycle over and over again, we can learn from them. Al shared a story in which several people asked him what they were supposed to be doing with their lives. It’s a common theme–even when I read cards, people always want to know what their life’s purpose is. But this was a peculiar number of people in a peculiar period of time, and Al felt that there was something more at work. He posed the question to the universe and what he received in response–in true universal fashion–was so simple and elegant that it answers for absolutely everyone who has ever dared to ask. Like a tree, we are meant to grow up and out. We are meant to root, to attach firmly to the earth, and grow towards the heavens, spreading our branches to shelter loved ones and touch people around us, to bud and flower and achieve great things, to bathe in sunlight and cast off the leaves that no longer serve us and grow new ones all over again. We are meant to do all of these things, relative to our own stories. My achievements will not be yours, and the people you shelter will not be mine, but as long as we continue to grow towards the sun and spread our branches, that’s okay. We’re both accomplishing all that the universe wants from us. And as long as we continue to breathe–in and out, over and over–we’ll get there.