7: Breathe

“Breathing creates space in our lives to think and see differently, enliven our imagination, awaken to pleasure, move toward freedom, and let joy in. For those of us who live in bodies that are denigrated by society, breathing like this is a political act.”

“This is what I want to tell you: You don’t have to make yourself suffer in order to serve. You don’t have to grind your bones into the ground. You don’t have to cut your life up into pieces and give yourself away until there is nothing left. You belong to a community and a broader movement. Your life has value. We need you alive. We need you to last. You will not last if you are not breathing.”

—Valarie Kaur, See No Stranger, Chapter 7

Understanding Breathe

A Practice of Love for Ourselves

To breathe is the practice of taking conscious deep breaths. It is also the act of creating space in our lives to slow down and care for our bodies, minds, and spirits. Breathing in community is how we sustain ourselves and our labors for justice — and let joy in.

Choosing to love ourselves, by breathing deeply each day, is a political intervention. Taking the time to breathe—literally and metaphorically—is a way to assert that our bodies are worthy and beloved. Loving our bodies is the first and primal act of loving ourselves. This is how breathing becomes an act of revolutionary love.

  1. How is the practice of breathing an act of revolutionary love for ourselves?
  2. How can collective breathing be a revolutionary act?
  3. How can the practices of breathing help us to wonder, grieve, fight, rage, listen, and reimagine?
  • Pay attention to the literal act of breathing.  When we pay attention to our breath, our minds are called to the present moment. Not the past, not the future. Here and now. Inhale and exhale. Even in the pain of labor, even when we cannot control anything else, we can consciously take one breath, and then another.
  • Explore ancestral practices that might guide us in breathing collectively: How did our ancestors breathe together? What were their practices and rituals? If these practices are not from your own cultures, learn to engage with these traditions in a culturally responsible and respectful way.
  • Reflect in your wisdom journal:  What do I need to breathe? What is the one practice I can bring into my life now? What can I do every day (every week, every month) to practice breathing?  How can I do these practices in community with others?
  • Protect a few moments daily to slow down and focus on taking one slow breath after another. If the physical act of breathing is difficult, consider these actions from disability justice educator Bianca Laureano: Close your eyes, relax your face, loosen your jaw, curl your toes, scream, and sip cold water.
  • Practice noticing one beautiful thing wherever you are, and to remind yourself that beauty continues to exist alongside injustice. Practice sharing that beauty with others.
  • Resist the practice of  “spiritual bypassing”—the belief that we are changing the world by investing in our own spiritual wellness, even as we continue to participate in the same systems that cause harm to others. Ask yourself: In what ways does my wellness come at the expense of others? How can I support and fight for vulnerable groups so that we can all breathe, rest, and thrive?