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when it hurts to breathe

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While sitting with our hospice meditation group I noticed a new member with one hand near her throat, quietly weeping. After everyone had left, I sat next to her, gently touching her hand. What is it? I whispered. It hurts to breathe, she told me; Bob’s slowly dying but still holding on. He has trouble breathing. I stay with him day and night. And you … are you afraid to breathe? I asked. Yes … how dare I breathe when he can’t?

We sat a while longer in silence, with me exhaling audibly to invite her to do likewise. Gradually her hand dropped from her throat, allowing a little more air to flow. Remembering something Stephen and Ondrea Levine have written, I suggested we try soft-belly breathing.

“When we begin to soften the belly, we discover we have room for it all. Room to be born at last. Room to heal. Room even to die with an unencumbered heart. … Softening the muscles, softening the tissue, softening the flesh in deep belly–letting each thought breathe itself in the increasing spaciousness–we begin to find ourselves at home even in the midst of the inhospitable. Warring factions are brought to the peace table of the belly. Levels and levels of letting go into soft belly.”

Assisting her to shift from constricted throat to distant belly may have planted a seed to open up her own breathing, her own self-caring and, by extension, her caring for Bob.

A week has gone by and still they are together: he in bed, barely conscious, she at his side, dedicated and suffering. Perhaps I’ll be able to meet her again tomorrow. And I might tell her that letting go of her own holding, level after level, breath after tiny breath, might also soften her hold on her beloved. But those are just thoughts. Who knows what’ll happen when we meet again. If we meet at all. 

source: Levine, S. & O. (1995). Embracing the beloved: relationship as a path of awakening. New York: Anchor, pp. 112-114. Click here for a podcast of Stephen giving soft-belly instruction.

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2 responses »

  1. I clicked for the podcast of Stephen Levine doing the soft-belly breathing, but got an error message. Anyone know where to find it?

    Reply

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