Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Unconscous Breath

 The following post is not to meant as an all encompassing introduction to the subject. It is simply the beginnings of an avenue of thought.

A few nights ago, I watched a disturbing and heartbreaking documentary titled The Cove, about the apparently, until now, secretive and ongoing dolphin slaughter by a group of fisherman in Taiji, Japan. Secretive, because the slaughter is held in a hidden nook of a cove after the "prize" dolphins are herded out and chosen to be sold into captivity as circus sideshows all around the world. The site is regularly patrolled by security and goons are hired to keep the horrific scene from being seen, photographed, or filmed by the public to avoid the event from being discovered and hence shut down due to the brutal inhumanity of the participants and immense suffering of an unfathomably intelligent sentient being, the dolphin. Fortunately, the efforts by the members of the team in the film attempting to get this slaughter on tape and out into the awareness of the world were successful, though the slaughter is scheduled to begin on schedule this month. I have several purposes for writing this; to express my sadness and anger at knowing that this is taking place annually and killing an estimated 23,000 dolphins every year, to promote awareness of the film and the bloody event, and to talk about something else that grabbed my attention while watching.
   The hero of this film, Richard O'Barry, began this history in an unknowingly inauspicious manner by being the trainer for Lucy, the dolphin star in the 1960's TV show "Flipper", which created an international desire for all things dolphin and set up what are now the Sea World style sideshows we now commonly associate the species with. A great illusion of nature, the smile on the face of the dolphin at all times has led us to believe that they are happy always and quite content with their captive situation. As I hope you will learn by watching the documentary, nothing could be further from the truth,
   At one point in the movie, Richard tells the story of the suicide of Lucy. Yes, he uses the word suicide. You see, what you learn, if, like me, you were ignorant before, is that dolphins, along with most other marine life requiring air, are conscious breathers, meaning they make a choice about their next breath, to take it or not to take it. If they take it they live, if not, well, they die. Lucy made the choice in Richard's arms to not take that next breath, the stress of her captivity and training gaining the best of her and sadly she chose to leave this realm.
  This was a startling revelation to me! Dolphins actually consciously make the choice to breath every time they take a breath! Or they are capable of deciding not to as Lucy did when overwhelmed with years of abuse she was unable to express to her human capturers.
   As humans we are certainly capable of deciding we do not want to breath anymore and we have devised  numerous ways in which to achieve this end, but think about it. If we decide not to take another breath, one, we will have to force ourselves into a situation where if we hold our breath for too long, we will physically be incapable of inhaling another breath, and two, the last event of our lives will be a final involuntary gasp for breath, for life! A science-minded person would likely tell you that this is because the muscles of your respiratory system are involuntary and therefore will try, possibly in vain, to provide you with air and hence continue your existence here in this present form. I believe they are correct, but I like to think that it goes much deeper than this, that there is more meaning to be explored here.
    A common idea that you will hear if you practice and study yoga for long is that you are not breathing but actually are, in essence,  being breathed. That the universe is gently blowing the essential air into your lungs is, of course, contrary to what we here in the West have been taught to know about the process of  respiring. We should also know by now, that that alone doesn't make it necessarily conclusive or correct.  What is the energy force that keeps your heart beating? What creates and sustains the fire of the sun? What energy created the universe? There are surface answers to these questions. Then there are more subtle ones. In yoga, we call this life force, this sustaining energy, prana. Prana gives life to the seed and beckons the stalk to come forth. Through subtle prana, the universe will attempt to give you breath, even as you decide you don't wish to have more. Perhaps this miracle alone would be enough to convince you that all breath is precious, that the action of you breathing is coming from the same source that sets the worlds spinning, that it is simply worth taking that next breath, time after time after time.

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