Breathe in… Breathe out by
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I have difficulty meditating in this time. As others have said earlier — the power of the pandemic yanks me out of my inner focus and lands me vicariously in the plight of others. Inward and outward, the personal and the political, yin and yang, the cosmos and the boson particle, all ring true as familiar dualities. The monstrous scope and scale of the microscopic pandemic virus unites us all in loss and sadness, hope and admiration, ingenuity and brutality. We cannot escape the virus except — for the time being — through our personal lives.

What a strange and terrible time to feel at one with the universe.

So I meditate in the safety and seclusion of our garden, hoping that the clarity and comfort I might find here can translate into resistance. At least here I explorel my brain. I consider meditation as a kind of rebellion, urging our minds to stand against the stream of our psycho socio habits. So I breathe in.

I breathe out and the shape of my breath resembles spheres now, a panoply of micro and macro spheres ranging from colors and currents that reflect the shifting conditions on our planet to the spherical representations of the virus, with its lovely, red Velcro burrs sprouting from Mother Covid’s teal globe.

I breathe in and imagine the continents as they slide over our own viscous sphere like butter sliding down a hot skillet melting over hundreds of millions of years, a nonsensical measurement.

I breathe out and look down to the open petals of a succulent in a cobalt pot. Familiar and adjacent, its small, perfect cup offers a tangible wonder.

I have grown stiff in my foolish sitting posture. I stand, stretch, and climb the steps to check the plants, just now fallen into shadow, the soil still warm. This is the first week outside for these slender-stalked girls and they already stand steady through the night and bask in the vernal sun.

I return to my chair, an old wicker job with a faded pillow.

I breathe in. A murder of crows flies on the diagonal across the sky, released and energized without the ambient audio garbage of small planes and helicopters.

I breathe out into the crowded, forced calm of an ICU, into the covid mucous hardening like plaque in the soft chamber of a mother’s lungs, into the exhaustion and the fear, the weary confusion caused by the power of the disease and the heartless stupidity of others,  PPE and face shields and of gloves and masks recycled, ventilators confiscated, hoarded, and bartered by a nation where ignorance has been weaponized.

I breathe in, avoiding the hot, stinking breath of beach breathers who bear a shaky resemblance to zombies, poisoned by their own stubborn ignorance and the toad venom and bones of children that White House sycophants grind and dry into powder that they blow into the nostrils of Fox News. Having inhaled the powder, the zombies march, their open mouths demanding the right to sicken, die, and infect, their shouts and threats spewing from grotesque, open mouths so different from the urgent chants that protest for the truth.

I breathe out. “Hatred, even of meanness,” Bertolt Brecht wrote, “Contorts the features.

Anger, even against injustice

Makes the voice hoarse. Oh, we

Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness

Could not ourselves be friendly.

But you, when the time comes at last

And man is a helper to man

Think of us

With forbearance.” I don’t think of these idiots with forbearance. They do not protest injustice. Their hatred is not, as is ours, of meanness; it stinks of their own meanness. I will them all to die in their armed and dangerous cloisters.

I breathe in the fragrance of sun-warmed lemons and feel the breeze waffling in my ears. The Covid sphere morphs into mother earth and I feel her smile. Maybe this aberration is no more of her doing than her melting glaciers. Or, if the virus is by design, maybe she will only take the zombies and the sycophants, the animal butchers, the child rapists. But that’s not what’s happening.

I breathe out. Above me, a scrappy squirrel poops into the jasmine at the studio door and a young Mediterranean cypress rockets through the sunlight into the sky, free at last from a smothering mantle of oleander drought-killed a few summers ago. They’re gone now, cleared while the smoke wild fires bracketed this Hollywood terrain.

I measure our time here by this palm that appeared as a seedling above the ground cover when all this was just a muddy hillside.This seedling saw the Challenger explode, the city burn in rage over injustice, an earthquake that poured our tall brick chimney down into the bathroom and living room like dry, dusty porridge.

 

I breathe in. A police helicopter circles to the south. I hope there is not trouble in the homeless camp under the freeway at the bottom of the hill. They are disastrously vulnerable to the virus that unites us all. What will become of them? What will become of us? Have we had enough of “us” and “them?” We could heal this. This one of “them” explores a gear hub from stolen bike. He might well be a bodhisattva staring at a leaf and listening, not to the rush of the freeway above, but the river that watered the sun-driven photosynthesis of each leafy cell.

I breathe out and welcome the possibility of change for the better, of lessons learned and ingenuity supported. I grieve over the sadness and loss and fear the hot wind of asphyxiation on the back of my neck. I breathe in and feel the world embrace me with our commonality. What a strange and terrible time to feel at one with the universe.

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Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

Visit Author's Website



Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Laurie Levy says:

    Charles, this is beautiful. As I read it, I felt myself slow down and become aware of my breathing. Yet it is hard to see the ugliness of those who protest for their freedom to endanger all of us by crowding together to consume and party. Be safe.

    • Thanks, Laurie. Yeah, there’s a whole lot goin’ on in all kinda different directions. But as the covid becomes its own river and cuts its channels through the landscape, the entire global landscape, we might see one helluva big public works program blossom outta the mud. Wow. That was a stretch. Anyhow, thanks for reading!

  2. Suzy says:

    This is wonderful, Charlie, thank you so much! I tried to breathe in rhythm with your text, but the language was so beautiful I had to linger over it longer than was comfortable to wait for my next inhale or exhale. But it was still very calming. I plan to read it a few more times to savor the full effect.

    I did have to stop in wonder at the scrappy squirrel pooping into the jasmine. I have seen millions of squirrels in my life, and especially in the last 28 years living across the street from a park. I have seen them scurrying across the grass or running up and down tree trunks and branches, but I have never seen a squirrel poop! So my hat’s off to you! Next time, see if you can take a picture.

    And speaking of pictures, I love your Featured Image! That’s gotta be you behind those Foster Grants, right?

    • What??? You’ve never seen a squirrel poop? You must get out more!!! Oh… naw. Don’t do that now. There will be time for you to embark on a squirrel poop expedition in times to come. I’m glad the breath works, at least in theory if not practice. Yes, that’s me, heading out to buy toilet paper. For the squirrel.

  3. Marian says:

    Charles, amazing! I will think of this if I wish that the Zombies would drink the bleach and instead exhale the healing white light that they teach us in yoga. Meditation isn’t working for me right now, but pranayama is. You can control the breath, or let the breath take charge. There is a time for each, and now seems a time for both.

  4. A strange and terrible time indeed Charles!
    As the others have said, your beautiful writing and your imagery is wondrous.
    Breathe and stay safe in your lovely garden.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thank you for this guided meditation, Charles, with your brilliant, beautiful use of language and imagery. Like Suzy, I took a close look at the man behind the Foster Grants…not quite the smiling image in the bio photo, but now I have a new one to think of when we communicate.

    Your garden looks vibrant and a welcome retreat from the current world. Spring has barely arrived in my part of the world with such different vegetation.

    “It stinks of their own meanness. I will them all to die…” Don’t know if you saw the ugly rally in front of our State House yesterday (lots of people no longer watch the news for their own well-being; I understand). We have about two more weeks of lock-down, at least, then a very slow, thoughtful, re-opening. These people, wearing their MAGA gear, screaming at reporters, refusing to wear masks, do not see any irony in their signs saying, “My Body, My Choice”. Let them all rot! Just don’t take me with them.

    • A great way to describe my meanderings, Betsy! Maybe a wandering meditation as well. Thanks so much for your thoughtful words and I appreciate your response. I also appreciated your phrase, describing Massachusetts’ “slow, thoughtful re-opening. We all hope your state’s decent local leadership will guide the process and keep you safe. And regarding your last lines… thanks for fully expressing your anger.

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