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Holy Wind, Holy Breaths

“If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it. “
~Toni Morrison~

In a prior post, I discussed Chinese Medicine’s concept of Wind (feng) as a pernicious influence affecting the body — an internal and external phenomenon that whirls and twists, and is known for its sudden and unpredictable, exuberant expression — with correlates in the gusty season of Spring. In the body it often plays a role in tremors, seizures, spasms and headaches – and when coupled with conditions of internal heat, cold or dampness, Pathogenic Wind may produce painful joints and muscles, sore throats, rashes – or perhaps wincing intestinal pain. (see “The Sap Also Rises: Springtime Qi” on the Blog page)

But there is another manifestation of Wind — what some call the Holy Wind. In this season of Spring, as we collectively celebrate the regeneration of life and envision the fruitful seasons ahead, we would do well to meditate on the power and sacredness of this fundamental force. Its role is central to life, key to what nourishes and sustains us. Spiritus (spirit) lives within our words respiration and inspiration — so let us step back, and consider: What is the gift of this ephemeral flow within Life, this Holy Wind which dances and whirls in our innermost sacred space and is then shared with every other thing on earth?

The Diné (Navajo) people of northern Arizona and the Four Corners speak of Nilch’i (Holy Wind) — and describe it not only as the wind of our atmosphere, but a network of animation that connects all parts of the living universe to each other. Nilch’i is central to the Diné worldview, as the Holy Wind describes Air/Breath/Life/Connected Awareness. Even the moment of conception is seen as the conjoined “winds” of male and female, which become a single wind in the developing embryo. It is the vital force of this Holy Wind which propels the development of the fetus, and nudges it to enter this world. Aware of the subtle realms, Diné parents are also careful about the winds of influence around a growing child, and often prepare special herbal washes to protect and nurture the newborn.

Our necessary first act is inspiration, the drawing of breath/spirit from the surrounding environment. Wind thus enters, spirals through our anatomy, and brings influences that then affect the development of one’s body, mind, and spirit. In his magnificient book Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind, author Lyall Watson says: “Of all natural forces, the wind has always been the most difficult to grasp. It touches us, it moves us, but we cannot touch back. It was our first experience of the ineffable. Something of indescribable power – too remote to be seen, but near enough to be sensed in a very intimate, a very personal, way. // Religions set up sun gods, bird gods, beast gods…deities of water earth and fire…But behind these convenient facades in almost every case is a sky god – a god of storms, of weather and the Wind… What matters is that we, as humans, feel instinctively that we are part of this power, and that it is part of us.” ²

The Chinese concept of the ephemeral substance called Qi is rooted in similar terrain. Qi takes many forms – and is described chiefly by what it does; it moves, lifts, transforms, transports. My esteemed teacher Ted Kaptchuk has said, “…we can perhaps think of Qi as matter on the verge of becoming energy – or energy at the point of materializing.”³  When there is harmony in the body, Qi’s 4 primary directions are in balance: Entering, Leaving, Ascending and Descending. This dynamic flow allows for our sensory exchange with the Universe, and our “network of animation” to convey the more subtle realms of Spirit to our mind and body. In the Chinese I Ching (Book of Changes), the potent Sun symbol (Hexagram 57) is formed by the individual trigrams of Wind + Wind.

Holy Wind carries our prayers…as our ceremonial pipe smoke rises to Heaven. We discover, the Universe is breathing with us! And in this epiphany, we see that we are not separate from any existent thing. We are swimming in one pool of Breaths — a life-giving form of Qi, which we share with all beings.

Watson concludes: “Our lives are woven into the wonderful fabric of Gaia, and we share her destiny of becoming something greater still. And in all this, we are nourished and animated by the Wind, brought into being by the touch of Heaven’s Breath.”

 

¹ James Kale McNeley, Holy Wind in Navajo Philosophy (Tucson, University of AZ Press, 1981), p.1; also discussed by David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous (New York, Random House/Vintage Books, 1996), pp. 230-239.

² Lyall Watson, Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind (Coronet Books, Hodder  & Stoughton, 1985), p. 329.

³ Ted J. Kaptchuk, OMD, The Web That Has No Weaver (Congdon & Weed, Chicago, IL, 1983), p.35.