Breathing Toward Death

There is a saying in some Eastern spiritual traditions that goes something like this: “The only thing to remember about the first breath we take when we are born is that it brings us one breath closer to our death.” I am sitting with a sangha sister as she experiences some of her last breaths. They are becoming more labored, more shallow, and less frequent. Every breath brings her closer to death.

If we lived with this awareness in every moment of our lives, I think we would make different choices. Maybe we would waste less time dwelling on unimportant things. The Dharma calls us to this awareness through meditation. We cannot help notice our breathing in the silence. Imagine each breath bringing us closer to our dying breath. Each breath is, in essence, a dying breath—dying to the grasping mind, the mind that resists the idea of non-existence.

The beautiful thing about contemplating non-being is the revelation that life is way more simple than we think. The wild mind of drama—desire, hatred, and confusion—liberates into a more natural rhythm. A rhythm of inhale and exhale. In the Vajradhara Lama practice, there is a line that says, “Inhalation and exhalation is the movement of the three vajras,” or body, speech, and mind. This is the energy of everything we experience as a momentary being moving inexorably toward non-being.

In other words…
Life and death exist within a single breath
Contemplate this over and over
And when your life nears its end
It will be everything as usual

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