The Breath is Life

I AM IN INDIA. That moment when you step off the plane from the freezing fog of a rational west, bleary, boss-eyed and bedecked in overcoat, crumpled blanket and super-sized socks grabbed at the airport, and slip into the penetrating saffron haze of an early Indian morning, an intoxicating cauldron of exquisite aromas hits you like a ten-ton truck as you gasp your first breath of an Eastern day. An assault on the senses, indeed, as they try to decipher which is cardamom, turmeric, ghee, mustard seed and aniseed, recognising none and just surrendering to the entire amalgam of that indefinable, maddeningly unfathomable, glorious and magical alchemy that is India the Magnificent. Mother, I am home again.

Travelling long-haul is easier today because we can avoid jet-lag – I used a couple of homeopathic remedies and just slept off the missing hours spent wandering aimlessly around Dubai airport waiting for the ongoing flight. This is particularly fortunate for me because I was not a pretty sight a couple of decades ago lolling from one armchair to the next waiting for my melatonin to readjust its settings. I have no idea how many man hours I lost in transit. But Dubai looked well enough although far fewer people were around (I am told it is the currency rates hitting that bubble) but I hereby solemnly swear that my wallet remains intact and the weather here is – fine.

Away from the insuperable pressures we have in the big metropolises of the world, (and I don’t mean just London, of course; big city pathology has no specific cultural norms – speed, fatigue, an all-work-no-play existence where the merciless treadmill of rodent life just keeps on churnin’), we have a chance to rest and ponder especially when somebody else is doing the cooking. As for me, I just need a good room, my suitcases, 24/7 sandals and a credit card. Yes. Almost.

I am here to start a life in this majestic country. I have always said I would spend 50 years in the west and 50 in the east – I am running at 60/40 now because of time lost transiting family life,  but I will make up the years with intensity of purpose and the clarity of mind that I experience through these clear, unfiltered eyes. Facing out in the last few days over lapping water into the western horizon, seated in meditation and in holy salutation to the descending sun, I breathe in and I breathe out. I then quickly disappear into the boundless that I am – in beloved India, the highest temple of all boundlessness.

Ironic it is that I spent 5 long years lost in space not able to encompass myself or know how to re-establish or re-enter earth’s atmosphere until I had at the idea that nothing would change unless I used sheer will, and I might say, tremendous courage to come back. I had to – I have things to do. It is clear to me now why those who have experienced this dramatic realisation rarely talk about it – from the great saints of India and the Far East to the more recent writings in the west.

It is incredibly difficult to describe and one looks back in sometimes in disbelief at the sanctity and mightiness of the what can happen either through long spiritual sadhana or via an intense, flagellating life in service to others, or indeed, by a complete spontaneous release. Those who are unprepared can go insane as the energies of the body explode, shoot upwards and one merges with the the apparent outer world. There is no boundary, you see. I fought it as I watched the highly sophisticated energy field of my self disintegrate, utterly helpless to stop what was happening.

There is no control because the mind is superseded by something so powerful one realises it is a death of some kind. I am 100% sure that many people in earlier generations were planted in asylums as raving nutcases by the medical profession if they underwent this kind of experience. The advuthas in India are those who are so incapacitated they have to be cared for by family members, that is, fed and watered because they are no more. My own observation in my writings was that I felt I needed to go into monastic seclusion as I was equally thrashed when my conditioned mind and memory were wiped.

At that time when I had great and unrelenting psychological pressure which was a build-up of 30 years, my system simply blew. Everything in my life had been about carrying and fixing the load for other family members, in other words, service to others. In looking back, I now understand why.

I remember I used to wear heavy gym ankle-weights to keep myself grounded and a cap for my crown chakra during those dissolution days, and I believe that it was my mercury fillings and jewellery that prevented me from moving on – my God, that terror. It is much easier for me to write about this than speak. It is because the body and mind can start to react with PTSD symptoms as the memory of that time is recalled whereupon I start to pour in sweat, my mouth dries and I shake and phase out. It is becoming easier, but I have  to halt the conversation when I notice my breathing become laboured and I am losing it. The memory does not hang around because nothing sticks because there is nothing to adhere to – the velcro of the imaginary self has vanished, and soon it seems as if nothing has happened. I have discussed this with only five people briefly apart from my son who watched the entire thing unfold, and lovingly watched me at my request and reassured me. I doubt I could ever speak in public about it – it’s too private, and one holds a tremendous respect for the gift.

In my meditations and contemplations since that time, things have become clearer in terms of explanation, especially when it was confirmed by a Zen Master sitting face to face with me. My goal has been to re-learn how to navigate the physical vehicle so it does what I want. THIS is why I have returned to my Hatha yoga practice because I have to get my feet on, if not in,  the ground,and balance out. It might take years, but it has to be my priority. This  just the beginning of life as I have always said on these pages – and now I must explore this divine emptiness which walks as me by holding a strong physicality which is absolutely on street level, with dogs and with graffiti on every wall in sight. My yoga path was always that of the intellect (Gnana Yoga), rejoicing in the subtle ripples of energetic meaning  from external form whether by word, sounds or aestheticism, for example. Pure enquiry, interpretation  and contemplation.

However, the one and only thing that remains during every single moment of my life today and which extrudes from my awareness an awe of complete obeisance and genuflecting reverence is my knowledge and experiential understanding of the absolute fragility of life. We are but a breath away from here or up there. You understand what I mean by this, please. It is the breath which binds us to our physical bodies and when I breathe God in and the world out,  that is all that is happening – the expansion and contraction of the universe through me. The breath is our key to life and I am always present with it because somehow it has become my key point of perception.

When my self was taken from me, by the grace of God, all I had was my breath to tell me I was still incarnate, and if you really perceive your body and mind, you will notice the same. We are a set of cosmic bellows simply respiring the divine but pretending to be a desirable touchable. Nothing wrong with that – we are here to party and the show must go on because that is leela – God’s play. But NEVER forget life is a privilege, it is the primal breath which holds you here and if you can offer your thoughts to that today, you might discover something unknown.

Enjoy your day today. Enjoy leela. It might be God’s play, but it is yours too. How could it not be? What is God is you, no difference. Show us your dance, your life, your passions. It’s all the same. Entertain us, please. I am watching …

Holding the spectacular light of yesterday’s super blue blood moon, I pranam to you.


India 2018

Selima Gurtler is a spiritual writer, philosopher, poet and Jnana yogi.

Her modern teachings to Self-Realization and Liberation are uniquely flavoured through the perceptive eyes of her Indian and European heritage.

Free copies of her books are available for download here:

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Grace Archbishop Desmond Tutu are patrons of her work.



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