Of the seven signs of life (movement, nutrition, reproduction, excretion, growth, respiration, and sensitivity) 'respiration' or 'breathing' is understandably often the focal point. The language of respiration and breathing even enters many spiritual disciplines. For example, some languages use 'spirit' and 'breath' interchangeably. To 'inspire' is literally to breathe in. To 'expire' is to breathe out...

I don't know if you did what I did as a child, but I suspect most of us have tried this – to see how long we can hold our breath. Before long, you feel like you'll burst if you don't breathe out and then rapidly breathe in again. This reflects the drama going on at a cellular level: respiration (of which breathing is a vital part) is the transference of Oxygen from the outside world into the interior of the cells in our tissues. The mirror reaction, the transference of Carbon Dioxide out from the cells and tissues, is of equal importance. There are other technical aspects of respiration but my purpose today is to use the concept metaphorically to help us live a more abundant life.

(Gaseous) Exchange

At the heart of all this is a win-win exchange. We need the Oxygen, other organisms (mainly plants) need the Carbon Dioxide. This is the stuff of life – the flow of fair exchange. I believe with all my heart that this is an aspect we all need to explore: to find something valuable to give out to the World, and to have the grace to receive something in return. Like the child holding her or his breath, the exchange can never be sustained if it is only one way!

When we are feeling low, it can be very hard to ask for help – let alone to accept it. My message today is that this exchange – the giving and receiving of help, love, friendship, value – is the ebb and flow of life itself. It is the rhythm of life. Until we can learn to receive (to breathe in), we will be starved of vital Oxygen. You were not designed to struggle through life bravely (foolishly?) on your own. You need to receive... and you need to give.

Don't hold your breath! Breathe out today in the form of giving something to others. And here's the best part: what you breathe in is not what you breathe out. For me, this means giving without expecting anything in return from that specific person. Expect a return – but allow Nature to choose the channel through which the exchange will come. This adds elements of freedom and excitement and surprise to life. It also releases relationships from the curse of reciprocation, disappointment and guilt.

Love, also, is like breathing out... if you hold it in for too long, you'll burst! Breathe!


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