The Difference between Life and Death

Hello Fellow Breathers,

We had an extraordinary class the other day, and I want to share some of it with you. This happened with our Teacher Training students, all of whom will be graduating at the end of May. When we study together over such an extended period of time we get really close, used to holding tender space for each other as each scouts out the unknown parts of their psyche. Sometimes there is laughter and joy, and others the shadow. I’m not sure what to call this though, a lot of both perhaps?

Carol (names changed of course) came out with a share after her breathwork.

“I keep feeling this growing frustration that goes nowhere. I can’t shake it off.”

“How far back does this go for you?” I asked.

“Since birth. Ever since I can remember, with my old family and my new one. I didn’t belong with them and I don’t belong now either. ”

“Can you explain more to help me understand?”

“I mean with the family I was born into, my parents – and with my family now, even my children. I feel stuck like I can’t breathe and I desperately need to get out!”

Carol was one of the more silent members of our group. But when she spoke it was always with depth and presence. Perhaps it was because English was not her first language that she chose her words so carefully. While I listened I dropped into my own felt sense, a rising panic that constricted my lungs. I asked about her birth. It had been normal.

Others shared more from their experience until we got to Paul (name changed too!)

“That was huge” he started “There was a moment I realized I was going to die. It was a rising fear that was closing my airways and it just didn’t seem possible to breathe, so I stopped and lay there still, refusing to give up, hanging on. I knew I needed to tell you and I tried to stretch my arm towards the keyboard to write you a note (this was an online workshop) – to say goodbye, if it was the last thing I could do! (I remember seeing Paul struggling to reach his laptop with his right arm).

“Just then your voice came through telling me to breathe – you even counted out ten breaths with me to make sure I did! I was so scared that I would die if I breathed more, but when I heard your voice I just decided to stop battling, to accept death and let it happen.

“Then Boom! I was through that tiny little hole and into another realm, somewhere I have never ever been. I have never felt this freedom before.”

We sat in silence for a few moments as the echo of his words stayed with us.

After the class had finished I had the chance to talk more with Paul. We considered the paradox of feeling like we don’t belong (here) meaning that we do belong somewhere else. What would the journey from one to the other look like?

Paul was exploring the same discomfort as Carol – of exit, but at the other end of life. He was equally beckoned towards transformation and ego death. His ally – disguised – was the adrenalin of fear as it clasped his throat, and only when he surrendered to its existence could he ‘die in peace’ and enter another realm of awareness.

And if your existential frustration was to precede something else, what might that be? Is it not true that every time we need to shed our skin, to open to matters grander than our current being, it will bring feelings of discomfort – even suffocation?

Isn’t the dissatisfaction exactly what we need to muster the power and force necessary to break through the old restrictive skin, to make the change we want to make?

“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life” Susan David

In speaking with Paul afterwards it became clear that our little group has now become an organism, symbiotic, each person a team member, as if we are undertaking a long and arduous voyage together. We watch out for each other, sometimes we even feel things for each other. When Carol and he had returned from their journey with such powerful shares, it was as if they had patrolled out to the extreme boundaries of consciousness, then returned to give their report and in some way their experience had become ours too.

During a fitful night’s sleep after the class I dreamt of these concerns. I felt the gnawing fear, and found myself in the birth canal, confronted by the impossible task of leaving the comfort of the womb for the poor exchange of human existence. I wrote to the group, including these words that came to me:

“As Paul and I continued our talk, he asked me whether I had fear of having to bottle up who I was because of people around me not being as sensitive or open-hearted as I am.

As I dropped in to answer him, it became clear to me that yes, it has been this way for me. It felt lonely, and I felt weak in it. Living life can seem like an emotional desert with only occasional sustenance from encounters with exceptional people.

It’s only when loneliness is embraced that it can be transformed into solitude, and with this new found power we can stand up, really stand up for what we truly want. Compromise becomes less of a twin, and more a matter of conscious choice.

That’s when we become a beacon, a beckoning to those around us who seek a point of reference that offers hope, an oasis to nourish our deepest thirst. Perhaps you have someone like that in your life?

We all want love, endless amounts of it. We want to give it endlessly too, and the beacon of our becoming attracts those who are ready to disrobe the protection, to meet their vulnerability and to reveal their nakedness.

Thus the path from loneliness to solitude is the same path from solitude to community, the coming-into-unity of the true brotherhood and sisterhood that is our heart’s desire.

That is what we are doing now. This journey we take is the preparation, the standing in the desert as a lone light on a dark night. And the more we stand strong, firm and clear, the more community will gather in that light.

You are all beacons for me. You all are parts of our whole. Like Siamese multiplets we are joined in the heart, charged with the wonderful task of shining bright for those who are wandering in their dark night of the soul.

Thank you, each of you, for being exactly who you are, where you are, and how you are. You are all my teachers, world teachers. Carry on with your edgy work, your staying open when the forces tempt you not to be, and for being my brothers and sisters.

This gives an idea of the work our students do to prepare themselves to become practitioners. I remember saying to my students in last year’s training that my goal was for them to be able and present for someone on their final passage.

This is exactly what I mean.

Blessings to you on your journey,


PS If you are in Europe this May, please cosier joining us for our 14 day Festival of Breath, Inspire Ibiza. You will be able to attend a breathwork every day for free, as our students celebrate their graduation. I hope I get to see you there!


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