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As Natural as Breathing: A Meditation on Grace and Love

A man is looks out over a lake in a meditative moment.For a long time I have experimented with various visualizations with regard to breathing. Usually these involve visualizing something associated with inhalation, such as peace, and something else associated with exhalation, such as joy. For the past few months I have settled on the concept/image of grace on inhalation, and love on exhalation. I have refrained from looking up the dictionary definition of “grace,” because it is not the one I am using and I don’t want to confuse myself before I finish writing this. I am using the vague idea of grace that comes from my childhood exposure to religion, primarily Christianity. From that exposure I have come to think of grace as something like divine loving benevolence that is always available for the asking, sort of the way oxygen is available if one inhales. That I might inhale grace and convert it to something like human love seems but a small leap of faith.

The gap spanned by such a leap got even smaller a few weeks ago when I was meditating in a wooded area and visualizing myself inhaling grace and exhaling love. It suddenly struck me that the trees were doing essentially the same thing. They inhale carbon dioxide, which I have exhaled, and they exhale oxygen, which I am happy to be able to inhale. That such an alchemical process is all around me, and in fact making it possible for me to survive, makes the whole thing seem part of the natural order. My converting grace to love as I breathe seems almost obvious.

Casting my mind back to graduate school I remember something that did not seem so obvious to me, at first. When Carl Rogers suggested that unconditional positive regard was at the heart of psychotherapeutic healing, I thought it was pretty obvious that he really was talking about what I would call “love.” What was not obvious to me was where that love came from. I noticed that intimacy seemed to generate something like love and I came up with the following postulate: “It is impossible to hate someone you have come to know deeply, and it is probably impossible to refrain from loving them.” This gave me an idea of a mechanism, but still did not explain the source of love. Perhaps it can’t be explained, but now the scientist in me is experimenting with inhaling grace and exhaling love while I am seeing clients. It would seem silly to refrain from making use of something simply because it can’t be explained.

© Copyright 2008 by John Rhead. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • David

    July 9th, 2008 at 1:40 PM

    Another great article- give to others what you want to get in return. Taking such a beautiful concept like grace and then converting that to love for others is such a peaceful thought process and is bound to have a positive impact on others. It sounds like a great way to try to live life everyday.

  • Steve Hopkins Therapy

    July 14th, 2008 at 6:47 AM

    It is an thinking in this manner can have so many other health benefits as well. I am very much of the mindset that in order to be a healthy and happy person we all have to commit to being not only emotionally healthy, but healthy in a physical and spiritual manner as well. When all of these things come together it is then that we can love others and give love back freely and become the whole person that we all strive to be.

  • Cynthia Psychtherapist

    July 17th, 2008 at 1:26 PM

    As a therapist I think that many of us try to wear this very coat every day. There is no way in which we can be helpful to our patients without exuding love and caring and understanding for them and their issues. I think that most people can fairly easily pick up on any sense of negativity that they may be feeling from you and this in turn can very much hinder their processes for healing. This was a fantastic little reminder for all of us who are out there trying to help others weather their various stroms to remain concerned for our patients’ welfare and to continue to give them the encouragement and understanding that they sought us out fo in the first place.

  • upstatesc

    July 21st, 2008 at 5:19 AM

    I love these analogies. There is something very therapeutic about visualizing taking something good in and breathing out something even better. This makes my day and gives me something to strive for in my life on a daily basis.

  • Shannon

    July 22nd, 2008 at 1:30 PM

    Maybe I am just in a negative mood today but this just does not make sense for everyone. There are simply times when I cannot overcome my negativity and become a more peaceful soul simply through breathing exercises.

  • Chicago Therapist

    July 23rd, 2008 at 3:05 PM

    All of us can benefit from this style of thinking. I would love to incorporate this into the lives of not just my patients, but also that of myself. There is no better feeling of that that you are giving love and grace to others as you breathe. What a wonderful way to feel about your true purpose in life!

  • Ashley

    July 24th, 2008 at 2:03 PM

    I love that this article has such a positive and upbeat spirit. Thanks.

  • Jennifer

    July 25th, 2008 at 9:51 AM

    Great message for therapists everywhere.

  • Therapist in Jacksonville

    July 27th, 2008 at 4:42 AM

    There is so much than can be gleaned from this and help us make a difference in our personal as well as professional lives. I am like the author- inhaling grace and exhaling love seems so simple, but when it boils down to it that takes a lot of work. But look how beneficial something like this could be if we all tried this once in a while. What a great motto to pursue to make a part of everyone’s life. Now that is something that really vould make the world a better place in which to live!

  • Tampa Therapy

    July 28th, 2008 at 1:40 AM

    I must admit that many already think of our business as a little hokey so when I read this piece I was a little apprenhensive. But I must say that after a few tries before sessions and at various other points in my day it really does make a big difference for me in how I am bale to interact with others. It slows me down, clears the mind, and leaves me more open to and recpetive to others than I may have been in the past. Thanks again for such a wonderful and insightful piece.

  • Justin

    July 31st, 2008 at 8:03 AM

    Breathing is indeed something that many people just take for granted. They don’t understand that many times breathing is so much more. It can be strictly symbolic or it can be a part of the circle of life-as the author pointed out, our entire system would be destroyed if a) we didn’t breath or b) the trees and other plants didn’t breath. I live in an area that is becoming more and more populated, meaning fewer and fewer trees. It is so tragically sad to see another spot of trees destroyed for yet another crop of little box houses that look exactly the same. How will we breathe when all of our trees are gone in the name of progress?

  • Rikki Colacurcio

    November 29th, 2008 at 3:13 AM

    Anyone who has received ‘grace’ through air exhaled by others etc., verifies its phenomenally powered existence! Anyone who has attempted to convert such grace into love is likewise partaking of an amazing, mysterious and utterly real process, if unexplainable…
    Anyone who has experienced healing and profound change on any marked level has, at least for moments, been made aware of how grand life is; how much a gift beyond ANY comparison!!!!!!!!
    Anyone who is daily enlivened by grace and love knows there is so, so much to be thankful for EVEN IN THE DARKEST OF MOMENTS.

    i have received huge amounts of grace and love via innumerable known and unknown directions and every wave, and therefore i declare boldly and as loudly as possible
    on a daily basis…..many, many times each day
    that love and grace are the most powerful forces on earth, and i want nothing more than to permenantly embed my whole life in their very centers–the very best of cozy nests!!!!

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