I Can’t Breathe


I gasped when a woman in our Blessing group said those three words yesterday afternoon.

Those three, single syllable words have become a meme representing the multi-layered horrors of our time. From first breath to last, we all need to breathe, so I’m guessing that those three words have a shock effect on most people who hear them.

My appreciation of their significance yesterday didn’t come to me all by myself. I had lots of help, namely the group of women convening for a reunion of the course I’m facilitating with my dear friend and colleague, Kathryn Lafond: Choosing a New Story for How We Live: The Power of Blessing to Change Everything. With the issue of Black Lives Matter eclipsing the significance of the Corona pandemic, at least in this moment, blessing both the world and ourselves grabs our attention AND adds to our confusion. How do we bless the horror of our duplicitous culture? How do we bless the fear, guilt, helplessness and anxiety so many humans are experiencing? On Sunday evening, a white male friend of mine asked, “How do I deal with the fact that my lifestyle floats on a sea of suffering.” How do we bless that truth?

As we women deepened our personal exploration of the broader and deeper significance of the act of blessing, one of them described the effects of growing up in a Christian church that emphasized sin, the unholiness of the human body, and encouraged the submissiveness of women. Something about the loving medicine of blessing, reminded her of the strength it took for her to leave that church as an adult. The bold thought inside herself, “I can’t do this anymore,” described her turning point. She talked about the debilitating nature of being encouraged to be self-critical, never measuring up, always finding herself “less-than” – all qualities that our North American culture still inculcates – especially in women and everyone OTHER than white male –  with the assistance of many religious traditions and the continuing stains, strains and stresses of a corporation dominated, consumer driven culture.

Another woman empathized. “I know, I know. I was raised Mormon, and when I remember my childhood, it’s as if I can’t take a full breath, I can’t breathe.”

“Oh My God, I can’t breathe.”

The impact hits us and George Floyd’s death is everywhere present in the zoom room.


On May 25th, 2020, the world witnessed the horror of a man pleading for his life …his murderer, a police officer. Bystanders, including other law enforcement officers, witnessed but did nothing to stop their colleague.

Something is so wrong with this scene.

The crime of one man killing another, a defenseless man in a public place with witnesses, is a horror, no matter the color of their eyes, their skin, their hair. But the differences among those specifics make this crime even more freighted. A white man is killing a black man. Finally the festering boils of our cultural denial, disingenuousness and delusion erupt, revealing our nation’s schizophrenia.

Principles of liberty were at the heart of our founding as a nation.

We have never honored those principles.

Native peoples be gone.
Black peoples slave for white invaders.
Women are second class citizens, finally allowed to vote in every state exactly 100 years ago.
We acted out of ignorance, immaturity, desperation and projection of the foul things that had already been perpetrated against our European ancestors. Deceive, displace, dispossess, dominate, oppress, subjugate, trap, cage, defile, chain, emasculate, rape, shame, shackle, the list of violating actions seems endless and continues now nearly 250 years later.

We, the white European first immigrants to a land already inhabited and vibrantly cultured, have yet to look in a mirror.

Give us your tired and poor! What a sham…E Pluribus Unum, our traditional, national motto from 1776 to 1956 illustrates our desire out of the many to become one. It reveals our dream of being a melting pot, a rich and nourishing stew of diversity. But we weren’t capable then of living into that dream.

The motto still serves on our country’s Great Seal and is embossed on our dimes, but in ’56 it was formally replaced by: In God we trust!  What a sham…
The God I know loves all creation. S/He created all of it. What’s not to love: trees, rivers, air, bears, giraffes, mosquitos, salmon, whales, robins, sparrows, poison ivy, nettles, carrots, tomatoes, cows, pigs, stars, northern lights, raindrops, snowflakes, roses, woodland violets, dandelions, snails and scorpions, the whole bit including humans. Every being, every rock, river and valley, every single thing from mycelia to mountain is vital to the web we call life.

Our country was founded on a beautiful vision but at the time, we humans weren’t capable psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually of making it real.


Now we have psychological knowledge, spiritual wisdom, technological achievements and global connectivity with which to make that vision happen: “liberty throughout the land”. Thinking globally, my vision includes supporting life, in all its aspects, human and otherwise, all over the planet.

Are we ready? Are we ready to choose a new story for how we live? Are we ready to make peace WITH earth and re-animate our capacity for reverence and the art of blessing all life, all situations? Are we ready to make nice, re-kindle kindness and generosity? Are we humans ready to live as if we were a virgin forest ecosystem thriving in all its diversity? Are we ready to love life more than stuff?

Are we finally ready to acknowledge we need both black and white, dark and light? Black without white is a void. White without black is nothing. All the values in-between the extremes of dark and light allow definition, discernment, allowing that which is formless to take form. Enlightenment holds hands with endarkenment. They need each other.

None of us can breathe fully until we all breathe fully.


May we open to the wisdom of the heart, the embodied awareness of our bodyminds so we can recognize the difference between love and fear. May we choose love always, ALL WAYS. Love feels so good, haven’t you noticed? Even when love is lost, grief leads to grace, and makes us more resilient people.

May we commit ourselves to blessing as a centering practice, to trusting the call of personal and cultural transformation. Shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, truth to truth, may we share our woundedness and live into celebration and inclusiveness, shaping a new story for life WITH Earth never before experienced.


To read more of my thoughts on e pluribus unum, check out this post.

About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, and eco-psychologist, mother of four and grandmother of eight.
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