(RNS) — The normally simple, normally unconscious act of drawing breath has come to define the United States’ most pressing problems. The country has been racked by COVID-19 — a disease that often steals the breath — and the protests that followed the death of George Floyd, whose dying words were “I can’t breathe.” Even for those of us looking on, our cumulative discomfort and chronic stress have often provoked an anxiety that causes our breath to tighten and speed up.

For centuries, world religions have focused on breath, in meditation, mysticism and as a metaphor for the divine, recognizing breathing as the core of life, and perhaps reality itself. “Merest breath. All is but mere breath,” begins the Book of Ecclesiastes in biblical scholar

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