Breath is God’s intent to keep us living: Mary Karr

The inimitable Mary Karr, author of the spectacular Liar's Club and Cherry, among other excoriatingly beautiful works, is known as a memorist, but deserves to be as well-known as her poetry. She has a clutch of good ones in this month's Poetry magazine (wonderfully laid out and free on-line, as always). 

This one is about the great Phil Jackson, Lakers' coach back in the days when they were pretty good — well, sort of.

It's about him, a friend of  hers apparently, and lots of other things too, including reasons to live.

To wit (in a Q&A): 

Q: …at the end of the poem you write: “Breath is God’s intent to keep us living. He was the self I’d come in // wanting to kill, and I left him there.” Can you talk a little bit about these lines, about breath and God?

A:     "Our autonomic nervous system breathes for most of us, and a priest friend told me once, when I asked him how I was supposed to know God’s will for me, that I should see what is. If you’re breathing, just presume you’re supposed to be alive and start looking around for some way to make yourself useful.

Mary-karrIf you’re suicidal, your mind is actually the keenest threat to your survival. Yet depressed people still listen intensely to their minds even though said minds NEVER have anything good to say. Think of it, you try to employ the diseased organ to cure itself! If someone outside your body were shouting those awful things you say to yourself  in such times, you’d plug your ears and sing lalalala. You have to stop that mind or die.

A simple meditation practice I started twenty-three years ago involves counting my breaths one to ten over and over. Pure hell at first. I evolved through various practices — some Christian and Ignatian spiritual practices taught to me by a Franciscan nun and a few Jesuits along the way. I came back to breath last year. For me God is in the moment, and I tend to do everything I can to avoid being in such a stalled, unproductive place as the present. The ego has to stop inventing its reality and notice what’s actually going on, which process kills it (the ego) a little if you’re lucky."

Killing the ego to live: Only a poet could bring us this news so succintly.

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