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  • Writer's picturePaula Azevedo, PhD

We Can't Breathe

There is so much suffering in our communities. Where do I begin?

Like you, my heart is broken and I feel angry about so many events from the past six months, which are a culmination of decades of systemic injustices, ignorance and failures. We started the year with the Australian wildfires that destroyed endless acres of habitat and choked wildlife to death. We continue to read devastating scientific reports about climate change and how the earth and sentient beings are choking on carbon dioxide and plastics. A new virus emerged in the world and is spreading that prevents humans from breathing and chokes those who are infected. Finally, black and brown people are being choked and killed by racist institutions and begging for their lives like George Floyd, and so many more before him, who said, “I can’t breathe.”

There is so much pain and suffering, and all of us are impacted by these events. We are all interconnected by our breath.

If the wildlife in Australia can’t breathe, then I can’t breathe.

If Mother Earth can’t breathe, then I can’t breathe.

If a person in poverty who’s infected with COVID19 can’t breathe, then I can’t breathe.

If George Floyd can’t breathe, then I can’t breathe.

And, neither can you.

The breath is so sacred. The breath gives us life. And yet institutions and leaders continue to dismiss and denigrate life and the sacredness of the breath of all beings. What will we do? How will we show up in this world? Will we continue to distract ourselves? Will we continue to ignore what is right in front of us? Will we remain apolitical? Will we continue to pretend like none of this pain and suffering all around the world and in our communities impacts us individually?

Yes, we’re being impacted by COVID19, but we are also infected by greater viruses that have been with us for centuries, such as the virus of indifference, the virus of hatred, and the virus of racism. In meditation and mindfulness practices we start by connecting with our breath, because it is always available to us, we are all connected by our breath, and it is so sacred. But, none of us can breathe when one of us still has these deadly viruses. Where’s the vaccine for these viruses?

The truth is the vaccine against indifference, hatred and racism starts with each of us as individuals. It starts by us doing our own inner work. And as educators it is even more important for us to do the hard, inner work of healing ourselves from these viruses. We better be prepared to show up in our school buildings and classrooms ready to be present and in communion with our children and community who’ve had an equally traumatic year (and it’s not even over). Of course this inner work is challenging and at times even painful, but we can’t afford to remain in an illusion. Awakening to the painful reality of how we are all impacted by indifference, hatred and racism is a lifetime process where we deepen our understanding, actively change, and most importantly become radically compassionate towards ourselves and others.

The time of hiding from difficult issues is long gone. The time of “doing what you’re told” even when it’s wrong, is beyond you. The time of playing small has passed. It’s time to step up and take an active role in healing yourself and your community. You don’t need to seek a leader for this movement. This time the movement starts with you.



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