In our discussion yesterday concerning waterboarding, I began to reflect upon the greater — and immeasurable — value of human breathing and its punishments both invoked and self-sustained.

Is it possible to measure the value of human breathing? If so, what commodity of value do we place on its importance? Our breath — more than any other internal inertia of us — is shared with those around us through noses and mouths. The depths of us find purchase in light and air and inside each other. Our breathing, more than our bodies, identifies us to others and defines us with specific intent.

We use our breath to pant, whistle, speak, cough, holler and whisper — and before we can expel any of those guttural responses we must first inhale in order to exhale. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was never a truer life-giver. Which is more important? The breath in or the breathing out? The intention of invoked waterboarding appears to be the denial of a fresh breath of air by simulating drowning.

The body goes into panic mode as gasps for air are replaced by inhaling water. The key to defeating an enemy seems to be to take their breath away. Burn them. Smoke them. Atomize them. Spray them. Choke them. I recently watched a telling military self-defense course where teams of five professional soldiers would fight hand-to-hand against each other to get opposing teams to tap out and submit. It was fascinating to watch one of the most effective teams gang-tackle an opposing player.

Four soldiers each held down a limb while striking blows on the connected arteries while the attacked soldier struggled to free himself. Then, the fifth team member would descend — like Zeus from the mountaintop — and gently place a hand over the attacked soldier’s mouth with one hand while pinching his nose with the other. The attacked soldier, who had fought off four attacks to his limbs for over a minute, would give up within five seconds of having his breathing covered and pinched.

There are many stories from families and nurses who witness the moment a suffering person dies and one last, heaving, breath, is taken before the body expires. That final breath, some believe, is the spirit or the life or the soul leaving the body and lifting to the heavens. If breath is the sign of life, then not breathing is the first indicator of death.

If breathing is one of the most precious — and most easy to compromise
— commodities we have, it is now our duty to wonder together about those who purposely self-impose restrictions on that breath of life. Swimmers must be especially daring. One wrong move and you’re not only breathless and choking on water, but you risk further peril in drowning. What do we make of those who choose to smoke?

Are they tempting the wiles of Zeus? Or are they merely self-hating and prefer to perpetuate their suffering on earth by choking their breath and the others surrounding them? How do we deal with air pollution that is suffocating large cities?

Are urban citizens unwilling victims to wanton sadists that poison the air with chemicals and other unseemly substances? Or are they just fools for choosing to live in constant danger? Do we all still have access to “a breath of fresh air” somewhere — or is that divine opportunity smothering in our last dying breath?

54 Comments

  1. What a question, Anne! I suppose we would think they would be able to handle waterboarding better on a physical level since smokers are used to dealing with inhaled toxins and swimmers learn how to catch a breath between water and waves.

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  2. to answer your question i think the inhale is more important than exhaling because to inhale is to show life and exhale indicates death.

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  3. I am blessed by fresh air – I have the Atlantic 800 yards away – when it blows it blows.
    We have rare lichen on all our trees which can only grow in very pure air – the whole area is an Site of Special Scientific Interest because of them.
    NB – I am neither powerful or wealthy.

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  4. Nicola!
    You took my breath away that you are neither powerful nor wealthy! How are you defining those two things? ๐Ÿ˜€ You are rich with experience and friends and powerful of mind and body!
    If you put your house and land up for sale — would you not be a wealthy woman after offering up your view and your ocean and your lichen?
    In the USA the super-prime real estate with the best air is on the coastline — and you have to have a lot of money or a long family history — in order to afford to live there. It’s a struggle in many communities to even keep access to the beaches public.

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  5. This part of the UK is plagued by rural poverty – I am asset rich and cash poor ……… I have, as you so rightly pointed out a different kind of wealth and power – which I would not swap for the other, for all the tea in China.
    When we sell – the tax man will get 40% and my brother 50% of what is left – but not without a fight!

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  6. Both !
    Some parts of the coastline are incredibly valuable – those with good rail connections, marinas and harbours. The south coast of the UK in particular.
    Parts of Cornwall are starting to join those ranks – again it is in places where there is a good rail connection – or close to regional airports.

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  7. Ha! Love it, Nicola!
    As technology creeps and people are left to work as they wish when they wish — transportation will become less important as people can do their work along any rocky shoreline close to home. I wish owned what you own! :mrgreen:

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  8. To answer the question you posed, I agree with Anne. Inhaling shows life, while exhaling does indeed indicate Death.
    As for fresh air places, you know me David. I have the mountains very close by. They’re not owned by the rich and powerful (or at least, not to MY knowledge lol) and the air up there, specially in the spring (note – rebirth) is the freshest and sweetest you could possibly wish for.

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  9. Thanks for the great comment, Dawn! I think it is fascinating to think about inhaling and exhaling. Some might argue the exhale rids the body of toxins while others may argue inhaling something like Dust Off can quickly kill you:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/06/07/death-by-dust-off/
    You’re so lucky to live so close to real fresh air! Ah! What it must be to breathe free again! Let’s hope there are always safe, open air, places where the public is always free to roam.

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  10. Dananjay —
    Yes! Catharsis! Excellent!
    I have my theatre students do a relaxation breathing exercise where, as part of the process, I have them breathe in the color blue and exhale the color black.

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  11. Dananjay —
    Blue is the color of the sky — fresh air and limitlessness — and that inhale cleans the toxins and tar and chemicals out of your body and then you become relaxed as the breath changes and the smoke and toxins and tar and bad thoughts are collected in blue and expelled as black air through the exhale. Using colors helps the students get the idea that inhaling — breathing right — is what gives them the chance to calm down an relax through the cleansing exhale.

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  12. Dananjay —
    It was a good exercise that prepared them for visioning and time travel. Some of them were able to do those tasks while many never got the concept. You must free yourself entirely and trust your mind to do it well.
    I love your cup story! What a great mind for connections you have!

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  13. Dananjay —
    I mean you close your eyes in New Jersey and you go back in time, you visit a mountaintop in India, you have a chat with a dead person, you fly into the atmosphere to look down on yourself in New Jersey even though your body never left the rehearsal room.

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  14. David,
    now that’s what i call wild! i don’t know what to say.
    what i meant by intuition is that sometimes i’ve known something intuitively and found them to be true afterwards. that’s the closest i’ve been to time travel!

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  15. Hi Dananjay!
    It was definitely wild! Even with a specific process and facilitation, many of the students were unable to leave their bodies behind.
    However, a select few were always able to walk through walls, get coffee on the first floor, fly outside and go up to the computer lab on the 12th floor, type an email and send it to themselves, and then return to their bodies on the fourth floor.
    The really dedicated ones would take their flying time travel home and practice alone in the bathtub and visit worlds and places in which they will never live and can never experience.
    Your intuition notice is quite keen — as usual! ๐Ÿ˜€

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  16. Hi Nicola! Oh, that’s interesting… when I think of silver I think of mercury and lead! Funny, that! ๐Ÿ˜‰ That’s why I use blue — the sky, fresh water, and the expanding horizon…
    There are some who feel the use of “black” is a negative stereotype that is racial in nature and they ask: “Why do you choose to give black a negative, deadly, connotation?”
    How would you answer that question?

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  17. I look forward to that – I shall make some notes of the thoughts going around in my head at the moment.
    I have to say that I have never been pulled up on that before and it is making me think.
    Just because it is not an issue in white rural england – does not mean it is not an issue elsewhere – particularly on the internet and particularly on a blog with the urban core at its heart where these issues are very prevalent.
    I would say however that I have taught all races and colors and they have never pulled me up on it either.

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  18. Hi Nicola!
    Great! Can’t wait to read your notes! I have the article scheduled for Thursday. ๐Ÿ˜€
    The argument is an interesting one and one definitely worth examining. I have to hold my fingers now or we’ll get into the juice of it now instead of on Thursday! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  19. Oh, that’s funny, Nicola! ๐Ÿ˜€ Now the “other thing” is a mystery for me, too, in need of solving!
    Ah! You’re too smart for me! Five days until Saturday. We have no time to sleep between now and then!

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