Breathing with the awareness that we are connected to all living beings including the Earth is a fundamental practice in many spiritual traditions. For me, such awareness is an opportunity to connect with the soul of the world (Anima Mundi) on a deeper level. In one of the spiritual practices that I follow, I bring awareness to the space between the in-breath and the out-breath. Noticing and infusing this space with feelings of love and gratitude for life is how I can magnetize my inhalation and exhalation with an appreciation for the sacred nature of life. This practice can also impact the state of my autonomic nervous system (ANS). It provides a shift toward my parasympathetic system and invites a sense of serenity to my body and mind.
The ANS is the part of the nervous system that governs the fight, flight, or freeze instinct and is responsible for many unconscious bodily functions such as breathing, digesting food, and regulating the heart rate. It also plays an important role in supplying information from our organs to our brain. In addition, the ANS plays an enormous role in helping us experience safety. Once regulated, our ANS can help our body settle and make it easier to bring awareness to our breathing for meditative and healing purposes. There is magic in the breath that flows from a person with a regulated nervous system. When infused with love, it can offer the healing atmosphere needed to relate to the planet from a caring place.
Everyone has a nervous system. Embracing the oneness of our humanity can include awareness of our collective nervous system, and the need to regulate it. There are many breathing practices that can help regulate the ANS. Breathing from a regulated ANS can add harmony to the collective nervous system. It can also create the inner peace needed to breathe with the intention of loving the Earth.
When I breathe in the context of loving and connecting to my body and the Earth, I can create a relational field between my body and the planet. In this relational field, I can love the Earth. As Thich Nhat Hanh reminded us, we need to fall in love with the Earth. This love affair can happen through contextual breathing that involves mixing breath with love and offering it to the planet. During this practice the body can become a sacred vessel in the service of creation, a home to mystical experiences, and a container for love.
The Earth is a living being with a soul and in need of love. Our survival on the planet depends on how we treat the Earth and all its inhabitants. Those of us who hear the cry of the Earth cannot ignore the pain that has been inflicted on her by greed driven consumerism. As the ecosystem is being destroyed by greed and economic expansion, everyone has a responsibility to respond to the lament of the Earth. As the oceans get more polluted and the rainforests more devastated, we need to ask ourselves, “What are we doing for the Earth?”
One way to help the planet is by loving it and relating to it as a living being with a soul. As I described earlier, this relationship can happen through our body, in particular the awareness of our breath. Not everyone finds meditative breathing helpful, and such practice should never be imposed on anyone. Those who can engage in slow and mindful breathing with the intention of caring for the world and inviting calmness to their nervous system can expand their meditative process beyond solely focusing on personal growth.
To turn the body into a container of love and a vessel in service to the Earth, one needs to claim the body first. Just like a garden that needs preparation and elimination of weeds before planting, the body needs preparation for deepening one’s relationship to life. This work needs to involve healing from one’s unresolved traumas. According to Peter Levine who developed the Somatic Experiencing® approach to healing trauma, “trauma is a fact of life,” and it can become embodied during a person's life. Since our ANS is shaped by our life experiences, having a history of unresolved trauma, or dealing with a current overwhelming situation can negatively influence our ANS’s ability to help us feel safe and cause it to dysregulate. Therefore, much of the healing from trauma needs to happen through the body. In particular, the nervous system needs to be regulated. For some, a traumatized body is less available for the type of breath work that has the potential to facilitate a kindhearted connection to the Earth. The sense of bliss that one can experience in relating to life from a place of gratitude is difficult to access in a body frozen by trauma.
After all these times that the Earth has been sustaining and holding us so generously, the least any one of us can do is to breathe with remembrance of the sacred nature of the Earth. Such breath carries a fragrance of love for the Earth and invites a sense of aliveness to the body. Also, such breath is needed to journey within and practice meditation with the soul of the planet in our hearts. Keeping the planet in our hearts during meditation can trigger healing energy that is needed to love the Earth back to health.
© Payam Ghassemlou SEP, MFT, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist (marriage and family therapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com