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Between Breaths

Last week I went to see a play based on the life of my late Phd supervisor Dr. Jon Lien. It took place in the School of Music at Memorial University of Newfoundland, the institution where he worked and taught.

The director, Robert Chafe, did an excellent job representing his character, that of his wife Judy and that of Wayne, in reality a collection of some of Jon’s colleagues.

Jon was a volcanic, headstrong person, passionate about the environment and conservation issues.

He started a lot of projects including the Whale Research Group. This one to address the pressing issue of whale entanglements in fishing gear during the heydays of cod fishing in Newfoundland.

In 2007 he was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in honour of his conservation efforts.

Jon died in 2010, after a long and progressive illness that left him incapacitated both physically and mentally, probably the effect of a freak road accident.

During the play I laughed and I cried a lot, as the director had interspersed some funny moments with some of the most dramatic occurrences in his life.

Jon was not easy, as a supervisor, mostly because he wouldn’t give you any slack. He wanted you to be always at your best. Just as he was always so hard on himself, and never wanting to give up!

I remember him sitting on his wheel chair, where he spent his last few years, and splitting wood with a chain saw!

Somewhat disorganised, especially when dealing with bureaucracy, and sometimes at the expenses of the starving grad students, one thing you could definitely feel around Jon was the intensity of his energy. It was contagious.

You definitely felt like wanting to leave

a good foot print around here.

And no bullshit or messing around.

Just doing stuff.

The Chinese would say that he had a lot of ‘chi’, or vital energy. And he was definitely able to transmit it.

This is not something you can get from the books.

This is something maybe you are born with but that you can also

develop through living an intense, energy-filled life.

You can become a conduit for something that goes beyond the personal into the transpersonal realm.

A direct connection with the life force.

For my experience, I can say that i got a glimpse of it in tai chi.

In tai chi, real practice starts when you can put down the ego, which is resistance.

Only then you can start canalise the forces that are beyond control and that can strengthen the body from inside out.

If you are practicing without this connection, you are doing an empty art.

This is especially true if you want to teach it.

You cannot be an effective teacher without being able to do tai chi correctly, internally.

Or better, if you cannot be it.

Like a friend of mine, maybe recognising some of if his limitations, half jokingly always says to his students: “Do as I say, not as I do”.

But tai chi does not work this way. There is an enormous difference between teaching something conceptual and sharing an internal art such as tai chi.

In tai chi you teach with your body. If the body is not permeated with consciousness you cannot teach anything.

You cannot fake it. Not too long anyway. Nothing goes through.

You cannot pass down consciousness if you do not have it.

Because unconsciousness cannot spread consciousness.

In the University context, you can definitely feel the difference between teachers.

If a teacher shares something from his personal research, something he is passionate about, something ruminated and digested, the listener becomes surely more interested.

He feels he is witnessing a true act. During years of observation, posing the right questions and getting the right answers, consciousness had time to permeate the form. Energising it.

You can feel this in people in general and I always feel uneasy around the ones who have a lot of opinions about things they know nothing about, about stuff they just heard or read somewhere.

It feels like they are trying to sell you a cheap product.

It is just a shallow show of knowledge, they just want your attention, buy your time.

There is no depth. They lack the connection.

Because consciousness did not have enough time to permeate the form and transform it into something beautiful. Something that when shared, or showed, still can transmit the same energy

that was there in the first place. Something that makes it true.

I think this is the only way to connect meaningfully with people around you. Like my friend Robert who leads a charitable non-profit for street children. He can just motivate you with his passion, no need to telling you what to do. When you are in his presence, you feel like doing something to help. Magic?


So what is there between your breaths?

The depth of the oceans,

or are you just waiting for the next breath to occur?

Are you at peace in the space between your breaths,

or are you just filling it with thoughts about power, sex, carrier, family, possessions?

Can you dive into something deeper,

or you are just living a shallow life?

Like for all beings,

you start this journey on Earth breathing in,

and breathing out you will depart,

what you do in between is your choice.


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