Quest Books, 2009
Reviewed by Chris Holmes
When I first skimmed through this book my heart sank. Chapter headings such as ‘Awakening To Who You Already Are,’ ‘Learning To Live In The Present Moment’ and ‘What Do You Really Want?’ seemed depressingly familiar, the over-used phraseology of consumerist spirituality and countless personal development manuals. Could I bring myself to read this stuff, let alone review it?
Well, I did read it, and I must say that I owe the author an apology for jumping to hasty conclusions from first impressions. Breathe into Being really is a good introduction to its subject matter, that most fundamental constituent of our life, breathing.
The book is short with 75 brief chapters, most of which contain practical advice and a breathing exercise, plus many wise words on embodied spirituality. In the introduction, the author sets out his aims. First, to awaken in the reader a larger mental perspective, evoking an openness that allows one to go beyond one’s conditioned thoughts and reactive emotions. Second, to come to a more direct and conscious contact with one’s body, leading to a sense of ‘presence’ – the “hereness and nowness of being” as the author describes it. Third, a release of the emotional knots and tensions that constrict our breath and our life. Last, a change in our breathing patterns, not because one has tried to change them but because one has created the conditions in which breathing can flourish, and a virtuous circle established. “The breath is a portal to presence, and presence transforms the breath.”
For this reviewer, the most interesting chapters of the book are those which focus on breathing and various body parts, the ‘breathing spaces’ of the body. Becoming better acquainted and connected with one’s own body is not a bad way to move into and sustain the spiritual journey, though one which runs counter to most western faith traditions which have tended to ignore the body or treat it with suspicion. As the author suggests: “Through becoming more intimate with the various sensations of your body, you will awaken to the silence, the spaciousness, that lies at its core.”
If there is a disappointing section of the book it is that devoted to breathing and its relationship to the Earth. Lack of space is no doubt partly responsible for the cursory treatment, but the author’s spiritual disposition is clearly less Earth based than my own – others will feel more comfortable with his particular interpretation of embodied spirituality. However, throughout the book the author conveys quite complex subject matter in a most readable way. This territory can very easily become incomprehensible in the wrong hands, but Dennis Lewis is always straightforward and coherent.
While this book is introductory in nature, it has some subtle depths and I can envisage how one might benefit from regularly revisiting its pages to help one sustain the spiritual journey. Even if one is looking simply for physical health benefits, utilising the practical advice of Breathe into Being within a wider programme of various types of movement, nutrition, bodywork and rest will surely pay dividends.
Most of all, the book encouraged me to do something I have not done for a while, that is, simply ponder the mystery and oddity of breath and breathing. Just as one ponders the strangeness of one’s eventual non-existence, it is also very strange that our living and being depend upon something we do constantly, mainly without thought. Breath is our breath, and yet it is not: we cannot possess the air. Breath is invisible to the naked eye, yet it is very real and powerful. It cleanses, enlivens and calms us. Such material realities help us to understand the subtle intimacy of human – cosmic and human – divine interconnectedness.