I Breathe, Therefore I Am (A Meditation)

Breathe motherfucker!
— Wim Hof

I am not my bank account.

I am not my job.

I am not my house or my car.

I am not my past, nor am I yet my future.

The myriad thoughts swirling through my head at any given moment? Of me but not me.

I am not who you think I am or who you want me to be, nor am I who I think I am or who I want me to be.

But it's easy to forget this.

It's easy to get lost, to grasp onto any of these things and insist: THIS IS WHO I AM.

The illusion is seductive. These things are all familiar. Some of them have withstood the test of time. Decades even.

I've had a lot of practice being what I'm not. Far too much practice.

And yet they endure.

Often they've served as a beacon in the storm, showing me the way when I've been lost or if things have gotten scary.

Things eventually get scary for all of us.

Loved ones will get sick and old and eventually die.

Children will grow up and we will wave to them as they leave to live their lives.

Careers we've spent our lives building will one day lose their luster, or we will be unceremoniously relieved of our responsibilities.

Old age or illness will sap us of our vitality, bringing us face to face with our own fragile mortality.

It's not a matter of if, but when.

No one escapes.

Yet, somehow, we still have to endure, to live our lives. Throw ourselves into meaningful work. Build a family. Love with our entire being, wholeheartedly, without limits.

We must do all of this, and more. The world beckons.

I have to remind myself: it's not who I am.

But then: WHO AM I?

I put my right hand on my belly.

I feel it rise and fall with each breath as it flows, naturally and effortlessly, in and out of my body.

I remind myself that this is happening every moment of every day of my life, whether I'm conscious of it or not.

An average of 20,160 breaths every day.*

That's 517,345,920 breaths over the course of an "average" life.**

How many of them have I noticed?

How many of them have I felt? Really felt?

From beginning to end.

From the moment the breath breaches the edges of my nostrils.

Feeling my diaphragm contract, increasing the volume of my thoracic cavity so my lungs have to room to expand to accommodate fresh air.

So my lungs can oxygenate my blood.

So I can ride my bike and hike up mountains and digest my food and make love.

Then, in reverse: my diaphragm relaxes and my lungs contract, forcing air back up through the bronchi and trachea and out through my nostrils.

I exhale the spent cartridges of life, then reload.

The world, in a moment.

Over and over and over again.

Whether I'm paying attention or not.

I breathe, therefore I am.

I am, therefore I think. My thoughts are not me.

I am, therefore I feel. My feelings are not me.

I am, therefore I love. My relationships are not me.

I am, therefore I work. My toil and its spoils are not me.

This mutable edifice of a personality that my mind has so capably constructed is not to be entirely trusted.

It is by turns vain and shallow and proud and insecure and needy.

It craves love and belonging and too often needs to be right.

It will often lead me astray if I let it.

If I'm not paying attention.

So I pay attention.

To my breath.

Because it's always there.

I breathe, therefore I am.


What question do you have? And which experiments could you undertake to try to answer that question?

Let me know with a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!