Recently I asked what it would be like if society were free of sexual violence. The answers surprised me. They mostly had to do with breathing.
Again and again women responded: “I would be able to breathe,” “I could breathe free”, “We could breathe.”
What is breathing? In many cultures, the words for breathing are the same as those for life. It is our spirit, nefesh, life force, prana, chi, presence, energy, movement. This is what sexual violence in a society destroys. It freezes movement, and snuffs the life force.
Deeply, deeply, in a manner beyond words, girl children are reared up to know, to weather and to anticipate male violence. And this changes the way we breathe. Trauma is so much part of every breath that there is no space to even imagine what a safe world for women would be like, beyond just first breathing free.
We don’t dare. Because if we can’t even breathe, what point is there imagining beauty, joy, playfulness, curiosity, sweet flowers, abundant fruit, warm homes, smiles, hugs, music, and wisdom. (Yet we women do – how amazing is that?) Because if we can’t breathe then we can’t see, hear, smell, taste or feel. A big chunk of energy has to be focused constantly, even in the most privileged circumstances, on primitive safety and survival, on being able to get that next breath. Each encounter, each walk in nature, each moment in the house, each conversation, there is a well-trained part scanning “Is it safe? Is it safe? Is it safe? Is it safe?” sucking away our energy, our ability to fully be there. This is the legacy of sexism, racism and violence.
That’s one reason I meditate. Every breath is transgressive. Every breath. Bringing attention simply without judgment to the miracle of breathing free – feels so good, and that helps break the spell of patriarchy. Breath by breath.
Every single breath says “I’m alive, I’m breathing, I’m surviving perfectly well by doing nothing, I’ll breath and with every breath I say I’M ALIVE I’M HERE I AM” Every breath is also the space around and within all that, every breath sighs aaaahhhhhh.
With every breath we are placing our attention on the world at hand, the world we’re not supposed to think is ours – the world of our own sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings, our own body. With every breath we reclaim that, with every breath we are also daring enough to let it go, with every breath we come back, and with every breath we give.
A few years back I asked my dear friend and fellow rape crisis counsellor, Nancy, if she thought I should start a blog called “F–k you, you f–king motherf–kers.” She is so kind, and she laughed her gentle laugh.
Every breath. Every breath. Every breath is the revolution.
With deep gratitude to Audre Lorde.
Photo: Deann Barrera