• nancy willbern

I am a hole in a flute

that (God’s*) breath moves through.

Listen to the music.


In my last blog post, I wrote about the connection of George Floyd’s final words: “I can’t breathe,” to the deleterious effects of the Covid-19 virus on the lungs of its victims, to the underlying sense of our collective loss of Soul. In that piece I talked about the Genesis story of the temptation of Adam and Eve as mythical representations of all of us, as humans – and how their (our) deciding to act and think on their own has, over the centuries taken us to a place of soul-less suffocation.

I also mentioned that there would be a Part Two to this discussion. If I left you forever with the proposed conclusion that it was only our collective decision to separate ourselves from our Creative Source in order to think on our own as the basic problem here, I would be leaving you with only half of the story.

Breaking the rules is a requirement for every step towards expansion.

We had to eat from that forbidden tree in order for us to grow into what it means to be human. If we hadn’t and instead had only obeyed the rules of the ultimate rule-maker, Jehovah we would have missed out on the most glorious tip of evolution – the privilege and responsibility of being human. Our sitting on the top of the animal kingdom (and I may be being anthropomorphically ego-centric, here) with the development of the frontal lobe provides us with a most cherished gift – the gift to participate in our own, collective as well as individual development. We, as conscious creatures get to choose whether to stay in our seemingly-safe-habituated patterns of thought and behavior – or – choose to risk moving into unknown, unexplored territory. That’s what Adam and Eve’s fateful taste of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil brought to us – a capacity for choice, for independence. They chose to risk even death in order to experience the freedom to think on their own. And that is a gift of inestimable value.

The problem is, as I see it is that we have taken that gift too far. With that first fateful bite, we were launched into a whole new experience of personal-power. And we have gotten lost in a heady, but going-nowhere-maze of our own making. That ultimate gift that comes with being human brings with it a hidden paradox. The gift of decision-making which establishes our independence, if used from the position of greatest potential involves freely choosing to maintain a relationship to the Source of Life that connects us all. When we make that choice, the choice to be the flute, our stale recycled air is forever refreshed and our Souls are once again enlivened. The solution is both/and – claim our birthright of personal freedom, but use it to turn back into right relationship with the Whole with which we are still a part.

I think we are sitting on that choice-point right now. And how we respond to it, both individually and collectively will determine either an enlivened Soul-filled future or more struggling to breathe in our own stale-air.

PS. After I wrote this draft, my son, Jake and I went for a walk on the hike and bike trail around Town Lake. A daddy and his itty-bitty daughter came walking towards us from the opposite direction. This tiny little peanut looked up at us with pure delight and squealed, holding her little hands outstretched while opening and closing her fingers in a toddler-style wave. I smiled back at her, mimicking her waving and said, “Hi! Hi! Hi!.” She squealed again, so thrilled that she had sparked the attention of a new friend along the way. And in that one, unexpected JOY-filled-connected-moment, this little stranger had become the hole in the flute allowing the breath of God *to flow through all of us like music, filling our Souls to the brim.

*(If the word, God carries off-putting or antiquated connotations for you, fill in the space with your own term that best expresses Universal Love. Although Hafiz was a Sufi, in his original poem he actually uses the word, Christ. I never want language to stand in the way of a deeper, truer essence that exists beyond the level of words.)

Image credit: Photo taken from article entitled: "The Bamboo Flutes of Japan's 'Monks of Emptiness'" on

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  • nancy willbern

Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is an ancient Greek word for breath.

It also refers to the vital spirit, soul or creative force of a person.

Listening to or watching the news these days is overwhelming -- the years of desolation in Yemen, the thousands of displaced refugees across the world, wars, famine, territorial feuding, the rise of authoritarian dictatorships, the continued race disparity here in our country, along with our current debilitating political polarization. The news-hour comes to a close and I ask myself, “What in the world can I do about any of this?” I have no idea. I am left feeling powerless and heart-broken. The magnitude of all of it literally takes my breath away.

Last week, I listened to an interview with Jungian analyst, master story-teller and myth expert, Michael Mead. In the course of his sharing he spoke of a not-so-obvious but relevant relationship between George Floyd’s now iconic final words, “I can’t breathe,” to the deleterious effects of the Covid-19 virus leaving its victims also gasping for breath. In recent times, there has also been much talk about our loss of Soul. I don’t think this is a mere coincidence that these three phenomena are occurring at the same moment in history. I think they are inextricably intertwined. Each is a symptom of an underlying crisis, a crisis of separation.

In the creation story as relayed in Genesis, God creates all of the heavens and earth, all of the creatures of the land, air and sea, including humankind. And then He breathes his breath into Adam and the man became a living Soul. And there it is, the first connection between breath and Soul.

It wasn’t long after that that Adam and Eve were tempted to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which according to the serpent, the one with forked tongue, would make them as wise as the gods, able to decide for themselves, to think on their own. God, however had told them that eating from that particular tree would surely lead to their death. Disregarding God’s warning, Adam and Eve decided to go it alone and take their chances. With that fateful first bite, it’s as if they decided to breathe on their own, cutting themselves off from the creative Life-Force that birthed them into existence and their very Soul-connection.

We, those of us living at this particular moment in history are suffering the long-term consequences of that original severing. It is no wonder that we are surrounded by victims of suffocation. We have lived too long breathing in our own stale, recycled air. We have lived too long disconnected from each other, our earth and our animating Source. Without those connections, we are left lost, empty, overwhelmed and embattled. We are left Soul-less.

Trying to come up with solutions for national or global problems is overwhelming. We can’t do it on our own. It’s all too big. But there is something that we can do. We can realize all the gifts that have come from our ability to divide and sort, categorize and evaluate, to know our own minds, but now at this juncture, in our time, we can turn around and gather in all that has been divided. We can choose to reconnect to the Creative Life-Force that breathed us into existence and kindled our sacred Souls.

For more on practical suggestions for how to do this, stayed tuned to Pneuma: Part Two

Image credit: Gerd Altman on Pixabay

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  • nancy willbern

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

Poor Cinderella! She ran to the garden behind the house. And there she sank down on a low stone bench and wept as if her heart would break. But soon she felt someone beside her. She looked up, and through her tears she saw a sweet-faced little woman. "Oh," said Cinderella. "Good Evening. Who are you?"

"I am your fairy godmother," said the little woman. And from the thin air she pulled a magic wand. "Now dry your tears. You can't go to the ball looking like that!"

Fairy tales live for centuries, not because they are true, but because they carry archetypal truths about the human experience. For example, they invariably begin with orphaned children -- children who have either literally lost one or both parents, have been emotionally abandoned or have parents who want to kill them or keep them captive. Scary!

Think about it – Cinderella, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel. This is because all human beings have experienced some degree of abandonment, enmeshment, neglect or abuse. Some worse than others, for sure, but most of us can feel that twinge in the stomach when we recall feeling alone, ignored, judged, scared or not loved quite enough, feeling less than or the opposite, too much of something. In other words, we all know what it feels like to not be fully accepted just as we were. Fairy Tales start there and tell it like it is.

They are also explicit with another all too human experience – the moment when the hero or heroine of the story is met with an impossible task – “Spin the straw into gold before morning or you will be killed.” … “Take her out into the woods, kill her and bring me her heart!”… “Sort the grains of sand from the poppy seeds by morning.” Or, as in the story of Cinderella who, with invitation in hand, no matter how hard she tried could not get herself to The Ball. In these moments, the protagonist tries and tries and tries to complete the task but is literally incapable and eventually moves into exhaustion and despair. And it is right there, when the struggle is given up that a friendly animal creature, an elf or some other-worldly-being comes in to save the day. An animal, like the ants that come in to sort the poppy seeds from the grains of sand represents the instinctual self. And the otherworldly being , like the Fairy God Mother in the tale of Cinderella represents deep intuition or some form of Divine Presence.

Although fairy tales can be really scary, filled with demons and dragons, devouring witches or trolls, their basic message is one of hope. The orphaned children always get saved and find they are not really all alone, after all. Someone or something always comes in to scoop them out of harm’s way or take them to the bounty. The point I am trying to make here is not that we will all eventually live happily ever after or all of our daily problems or ills will magically be poofed away. But what I am saying is that whenever we find ourselves, which all of us do, facing an impenetrable dead end, an unsolvable problem – being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, being in relationship with an active addict, living in a dysfunctional marriage but too afraid to leave, continuing to live out of a fear-based part of the self in spite of all the psychological or spiritual work we have done – there is always more than we can see, more than our problem-solving minds, our personal strength of will can come up with.

There really are unpredictable powers that are ready to come to our aid. So, next time, after repeatedly struggling to find our way out, we can just slide down, put our backs against the wall, sit down and be still. We can stop our getting-nowhere-effort-ing, fully admit that we really don’t see any solution and call upon Unseen Grace to show us the way.

Fairy tales aren’t just stories for children. They carry powerful Universal Truths about what it means to be human. They expose the ubiquity of human futility, as well as the freedom that comes through unimagined providence.

Image by DGlodowska in Pixabay free images

Quote taken from Walt Disney's Cinderella, Golden Press, 1950

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