Let’s all breathe together, shall we?

As someone who has generally done whatever they can to avoid churches for fear of getting smote down on the spot (I jest… sort of… I also always thought the past tense of smite was smited, but Google thinks it knows better than I do. Ok Google, we’ll go with your way), I’ve actually been going to churches that have appeared down the streets I’ve wandered in Paris.

I remember being so angry years ago when I went to the Vatican. All the gold, the marble, the opulence in the name of religion, while the people around had nothing and starved, and in fact even died building that insane city… All the things I hate about organised religion. Nothing about that place felt like it was made by the people for the people. It made me angrier still to think about how even now, it still exists, just as it ever did – a way to separate themselves from everyone else.

Perhaps I’ve mellowed in my old age but I’ve been walking into these churches with a different mindset entirely – though I do prefer the smaller ones. The really huge, grand ones still give me a slight uncomfortable feeling. I now try not to think about the religion aspect, but think more about the history of these sacred spaces, how they are places where so many people through time have come together, congregating to connect with something greater than themselves.

I feel a really spirituality and connection when I swim on Hampstead Heath, where so many have swum before me, and now I tap into that feeling when stepping inside a church too. I take a seat and I close my eyes, earphones in, and I meditate for 20 minutes.

Did you know that the word ‘spiritual’ comes from the Latin word spirare, which means ‘to breathe’? The noun counterpart of spirare, spiritus, means “a breath”, “air” or “inspiration”

There’s a quote I remind myself of when things feel like they’re all going wrong: ‘As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel.’ – Jon Kabat-Zinn

So being spiritual needs to mean nothing more than connecting to our breath. The same breath, the same mechanism we all use, 4-16 times per minute, all day every day that we’re alive. No vengeful man who preordains all life and attempts to control people through the idea of sin and shame for just being human, no elitist club that only some people get to join when they die, no converting, nothing evangelical. Just the one thing that connects us all, and with every other human, ever. With every animal on the planet, too. From the animals that live the longest – like the tortoise that breathes only 4 breaths a minute and lives for 150-200 years, to the mouse who breathes up to 230 breaths per minute (!) and lives only 1-3 years – It’s a sliding scale, which we all sit on (and there’s a message there in longevity too – slow ya breaths down, peeps).

I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to ‘live our best life’ (cringe), we need some sort of spiritual connection – whether we get that through our friend the breath, or through meditation, swimming, walking in nature, prayer, movement-based practices like yoga, tai chi or qi gong… doing something that quietens the mind, allowing us to go beyond it and connect with ourselves and all of humanity. Otherwise it’s too easy to get caught up in the chatter, the chitta vritti*, the self. And I assure you, we are all so much more than just that.

In one church, they had an ‘intention de prié’ box – intention for prayer. Beside it, they had pieces of paper and pens. And so I sat, and I wrote, in my very best, hasty French, ‘please pray for me to heal from this cancer’, wondering whether I should feel weird asking for help from a deity I didn’t believe in. But I poked it into the overflowing box which they would apparently empty on Friday, praying for all those who asked.

My views on this whole life-after-death thing got very confused by the research of a sceptical doctor named Bruce Greyson who studied hundreds of cases of Near Death Experiences (NDEs – a bit of a misnomer, because it refers to people actually dying and getting revived) in his book ‘After‘. I went from ‘obvs not’ to ‘well it’s hard to ignore these case studies…’ In her book, ‘Dying to be Me‘, Anita Moorjani also writes of her own NDE, when her organs and body shut down from cancer progression, and she writes: ‘I was overwhelmed by the realization that God isn’t a being, but a state of being . . . and I was now that state of being!

I still don’t know (who does). But the day before I found myself in that church, I’d read about a study where a group of people were prayed for during their cancer treatment, and another group were not, and the ones that were, had better outcomes and lived longer. I have also since read studies that said the opposite was true. So still, who knows.

But hey, I’m hedging my bets.

If a big man in the sky wants to help me out, I am so here for it.

Or a big woman. Or a small woman. Or some fab non-binary angel floating around (might I add, non Christian religions have genderless Gods). Or any sort of lesser God chilling around up there who happens to decide they want to pop into a church in Paris at the exact time a man in a robe reads out my specific piece of paper out of the hundreds of others there and decides I’m somehow important enough decide to heal. Or just that they’ve got nothing else on this week and were feeling quite bored anyway, so why not.

As Moist Von Lipwig, said as was about to be hanged: “I commend my soul to any god that can find it.” (Terry Pratchett, Going Postal)

Me too, Moist, me too. But I’m not planning on going anywhere any time soon (and neither was he, so it turned out – Spoilers, sorry)

* I’m currently doing my yoga teacher training and I love this word – according to Yogapedia, chitta vritti, or citta vritti is a term that refers to the thoughts that clutter the mind. The name comes from the Sanskrit, citta, meaning “consciousness” or “memory,” and vritti, meaning “waves.” It can be translated in English to mean “mind chatter,” and is sometimes called “monkey mind.” One of the goals of yoga is to take control of citta vritti by quieting the mind, thereby reducing stress and increasing Self-awareness.

A picture of a church I didn’t go inside (Sacré Coeur), but instead sat in the garden behind it in the sun, watching a juggler practicing for about an hour. And as lots of us sat around watching him (though some were just having a nap), that felt quite spiritual to me – creativity and human connection intersecting

13 Comments Add yours

  1. melanie Y says:

    What a beautifully well-written, insightful read to start the day. Thank you!


  2. Ash Ross says:

    My dearest Jen. I’ve been praying for you and will keep doing so. I believe God can and does work miracles through doctors and treatment or by His own hand. My prayer is also that you find peace and rest during moments of anxiety or fear. Much love to you.


    1. Jen Eve says:

      I appreciate that so much. Thank you. So grateful for you and your friendship and also the discussions we’ve had and will hopefully continue to have about all this! xxx


  3. Moi says:

    In traditional theology, you would not pray for yourself, as this would be questioning the will of god. I pray instead for the strength & courage to bear what I have to bear. This helped tremendously when I lay for weeks in ICU, struggling to breath. And here I am, still breathing….


    1. Jen Eve says:

      Oops, I didn’t know the rules! Ah well, I tend to prefer to break them than follow them anyway hehe. Glad you found something that helped you!


  4. claire93 says:

    so pleased to see you made it to Paris, Jen, and that you’re taking this time to breath.
    I didn’t know the origin of the word spiritual, and being agnostic, bordering on atheist, I was thinking about what calms me. It’s walks in the park with the dog, breathing in fresh air even in the pouring rain . . . or sitting quietly with my needlecrafts when all I do is concentrate on my needles and shut out everything else.


    1. Jen Eve says:

      Yes, fellow atheist here. But I’m trying to find ways to let go of that strong view and connect more to things spiritually – as you say, nature is a huge one, as is creating – when you get into that creative flow, it feels almost… divine (not in that deity kind of way).

      Note: I came back in to edit this comment because as soon as I sent it, it started pouring with rain, and I looked at it and smiled and thought of you 🙂 There’s that connection again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. claire93 says:

        well I’m not far from Lyon, so looks like you’re enjoying the same rain as we are ^^


  5. Stef G. says:

    YES. Nail on head. ❤️ As always, I so love your writing and I’m glad you’re out there “living your best life.”

    This has me thinking about when people call one another inspirational. Are we all capable of being tiny gods to one another, helping heal the angst and stress of our peers?


    1. Jen Eve says:

      Yes, I think you’re onto something there. I came across this quote recently and it’s stayed with me –

      ‘We used to think that we had to pray to God, and that was based upon this whole idea of an external deity only available to certain people at certain times. Now we discover the truth of what metaphysicians have been saying for centuries: God is within each of us. Quantum physics has shown us that what we think of as “reality” is nothing more than energy, and that energy is everywhere and in everything, all the time.’ – Wayne Dyer

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Flick says:

    I absolutely love reading your blog posts, you are so calming and such an inspiration. I don’t have a religion and don’t really know what to believe, what you’ve written sums it up perfectly. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed your time in Paris, we’ll be very happy to have you back in the UK soon 😘


  7. Julia says:

    Lovely blog post Jen, I have had a (Christian) faith since I was little but have had a lot of similar questions & thoughts to you. What I do believe is God is love and loves you and you can always receive that love. As far as prayer goes, someone once said to me that when we pray coincidences happen and when we don’t they don’t. So I pray and will pray for you X


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s