Location: Takayama

Week: 5

Days Travelled: 35

There are many links between breath and existence in the teachings of Yoga and Zen.

The simplest is this:

Inhale = Birth

Exhale = Death

We all take our first inhale the moment we are born, we all die on an exhale. In the microcosm of each breath is the reality of the macro: each inhale is a mini birth, every exhale a type of death.

Following this idea, the pause at the top of each breath in – where we feel more energised, full and expansive – is the experience of life. The space at the end of exhale – a moment of emptiness, stillness and silence – is seen as the subtle break between incarnations; the ‘time’ between dying and being born.

Though that may be hard for some to swallow or accept, to me the reality is irrelevant; it is what the teachings represent opposed to what may be ‘true’.

Currently on a road trip through the Japanese alps, everywhere we are visiting is quite quiet. The ski season has now finished, which we enjoyed immensely in Nozawa, and a lot of the spring attractions (hiking, fishing etc) are not open yet due to the melting snow.

In Melbourne, we don’t have such an obvious change in our seasons (more on this in my next post) and it has been such a pleasure to be part of this shift.

It feels exactly like the pause between death and life: the pause between exhale and inhale.

For the past fortnight, everything has felt so still. It is too cold for the birds to be overly active, except for the perpetual sight and caw of ravens, and even the air feels still in the lingering winter chill. When the wind does blow, the leafless trees make no sound and the weak sunlight does little more than illuminate playful patterns on the forest floor.

But in the past few days, we have observed a noticeable shift.

Birds sing in the mornings, insects can be seen in the sun, daffodils begin to poke through snow and even the wintery pines have started to change to a pale brown as they flower. Cherry blossoms are doing their best to evolve from bud to petal and people are out in the fields working with a smile on their faces.

It is the whole region taking a deep stretch and yawn after a long slumber, arising with a grin and newly invigorated vitality for the day (or season) ahead.

It feels like the promise of life after an empty pause, the first breath in following an extended moment after a breath out.

Winter is of course not empty, it is a natural part of the seasonal cycles essential to life itself.

This is the teaching around death, too.

So many of us may fear it as the nothingness that comes after life because we are so conditioned to see the lack, to focus on what was once there now being gone. This happens with the passing of a loved one, a relationship ending or even a time in our life being over. We do this with the idea of our own ‘end’, the fear around the imagined idea of everlasting non-existence which is an impossible experience anyway.

But it is not nothing.

It is the necessary pause before what comes next.

It is the bare branch waiting for spring blossoms.

It is the fresh snow covering the earth before the daffodils.

It is the pause between exhale and inhale.