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“Przekrój” Magazine brings to the English reader some of the best journalism from across Central and Eastern Europe, in such fields as culture, society, ecology and literature. Stand aside from the haste and fierceness of everyday news and join us now!

Inhaling fresh air is about much more than living! One of our authors shares his thoughts on breathing ...

I Catch Joy from the Air
On the Pleasures of Thoughtful Breathing

Illustration by Karyna Piwowarska
I Catch Joy from the Air
I Catch Joy from the Air

Enough of mindless breathing! Let’s stop wasting air, inhaled without any pleasure. In times that are laced with thick smog, we recall a text from the archives of “Przekrój”.

Read in 7 minutes

A few breaths of fresh air often provide me with more energy than a multi-course dinner. Because, although a feeling of worry plagues me and all I want to do is heave a big sigh, upon swallowing a larger portion of oxygen once or twice, my mood immediately becomes brighter, while my deep breaths finally turn into bursts of laughter.

Molecules of air are therefore my reliable allies – my consolers proven many times over – who are ready to come to my rescue whenever I summon them. After all, I have an abundance of them at my side at any given moment. I can count on them more than anything else, as I cannot always have a friend, my favourite dog, trees or flowers within reach. A man who could make the air the object of his desire would probably never walk the planet with his head hung in despair as a bitter and disappointed lover.

I sometimes imagine that I am practising my deep breaths not on the banks of the Vistula River, but rather somewhere on the shores of the Ganges, along with a group of Hindu yogis. Being a very sociable man, I become especially jolly. I inhale the air into my body with a feeling of near perfect happiness, while my cheerful laughter seems to blissfully warm my lungs and heart.

I am also pleased to no end when one of the yogis from the group seemingly standing next to me becomes infected by my laughter and starts to light-heartedly chuckle. Then, when the other yogis look at him with an expression of surprise and slight reprimand, he gazes in my direction, as if to excuse himself, and says: “It’s because of that exceedingly jolly Pole that I lost myself!”

I usually find it very difficult to inhale the fragrant air with a concerned solemn expression on my face; like some melancholic, crushed by worries with no relief in sight. Much like my inability to munch on chocolate with an expression that is exceedingly painful. In the meantime, I’ve been gulping down fresh, fragrant air lately like roulades or aromatic cutlets (without having to bite or chew these delicacies).

This is because, for many years, I have for the most part breathed in a thoughtless and reckless manner, without deriving nearly any joy at all from the process of breathing; my thoughts being consumed by somebody who had annoyed me ever so slightly, because I was stupidly oversensitive about my own love or ambitions. I wasted enormous amounts of air that way, by inhaling it without any great pleasure – which is probably even worse than if I were to revel away an enormous fortune!

Right now though, I am usually thrilled and amused by the platoons of air molecules that are endlessly moving through my nose and throat. I’ve been constantly throwing great parties in my lungs for more and more new particles of oxygen and nitrogen, or for other pleasant visitors; I welcome all of them with open arms, and eagerly await them. After all, they come to me as invisible, nearly impalpable beings with an important mission: to extend my life on Earth; to offer me, to a certain degree, new moments of life, as a nice, friendly gift.

At times, I give ceremonial speeches to the guests in my head. “Welcome,” I say, “my dear guests! But please stay only for a short while so we can make room for the next guests! Therefore, I declare your visit to be over!”

I accept visitors day and night, and will keep on accepting them until the air pays its very last visit to my lung chambers, when I won’t be able to breathe anymore, though I will most likely still be willing to.

Because I am generally able to handle my own feelings of sorrow or irritation quite well, and because I usually never wait idly until they go away on their own, I very rarely breathe lethargically (as if I need to breathe to live). And there is no way I am going to imitate Lalik! Because Lalik – an acquaintance of mine – cares for all kinds of little physical pleasures as if they were endlessly more valuable than peace of mind. Without hesitation, he will add more sugar when his coffee is not sweet enough, just as he doesn’t hesitate a moment to apply a bandage to his finger if he cuts it.

Yet how clumsily he approaches the matter of breaking out of sadness, of suppressing his anger or overcoming his laziness, to be able to feel more satisfaction from life! He usually surrenders to his melancholy or irritation with such compliance as if it were a necessity; as if it were something imposed upon him by fate, or something he should endure with humility. At any rate, he often draws pride from his bad moods, because once he tried to convince me that:

“My sorrows prove, however, that I am capable of feeling them, that I have a deeper, more sensitive nature; that is why I cannot overcome these sorrows as easily as other people can, and I usually wait at length until my misery finally leaves me, until somebody cheers me up!”

Lalik’s melancholy moments somehow never give rise to any increasingly interesting thoughts or wittier observations, but rather transform him, for hours on end, into a seemingly poetically melancholic loafer, a tearful lethargic blunderer and malcontent (who sometimes infects others with his sombreness). I, on the other hand, always do what I can to eliminate as promptly as possible any excessive outbursts of sorrow, anger and especially dissatisfaction with myself, as they oppress me no less than a small fly stuck under my eyelid, or a nail pinching my shoe sole.

I am also showing increased respect for my own conscience. I do not have any hope that its voice will become silent and that it will not diminish my joy of life, or that I will perhaps not feel a spiritual bitterness and resentment towards my own person if I turn out to be a selfish man, a boaster, bum or penny-pincher. After all, I’ve tried thousands of times to sort of trivialize the voice of my conscience, to cleverly drown it out in a variety of ways. All this to be able to enjoy life, pretending I can’t hear it – but I could never succeed. Therefore, I will forever resign from such attempts.

I have also ascertained enough times already that expressing exaggerated and severe outrage at people for whatever minuscule reason will make my life miserable. My severe rages, as I have assumed, could become a source of mockery or evoke gazes full of pity, so I usually prefer to be ashamed of them in the company of others, and would rather huff and puff with anger when I am alone.

My ambition does not allow me to slide into depression. Am I not capable of being more dashing than Lalik? Also, instead of moaning, sighing heavily, and complaining that this or that didn’t work out for me, I prefer to tell myself: “I’m sure that in the future only successful events will come my way, so can already look forward to them, and have joyful daydreams about them.” Even if people’s dreams seldom come true, so what? Isn’t weaving them together in your mind lovely enough?

I would therefore be a pitiful fool and a coward if I were to stop dreaming like that, fearing that I would be disappointed one day, and that enduring the disappointment would not be easy. So I courageously endure a variety of disillusionments, because for the most part I remain open to that possibility, and laugh out of delight that I am not a cry-baby or a brittle reed. Finally, I feel satisfied with doses of happiness, which a fussier person might consider to be rather meagre. I am not too greedy or stringent, and I also do not firmly demand, as does Lalik, to be successful at nearly everything in life, to always be in good health and make sure that nobody disappoints me in anything. I will do without all the fun that will pass me by!

Being quite aware of how my moods are dependent on what I happen to be thinking about at the given moment, I try to not worry my head off with all sorts of bad memories, bad feelings, silly anxieties or desires. Let reason act as the guardian of my mental health, like a guard attentively observing from his tower to make sure that the enemy does not manage to force its way into the fortress!

Let it especially defend me from my own self, from all my excesses! Let me make excuses less often, as I need to reproach myself for various small offences once in a while. After all, my various inclinations, habits, weaknesses (which are, by the way, most detrimental to me alone) are much too strong for me not to give into them from time to time, and then moan about my foolishness or weakness. Right now, for example, I am much more cheerful, while my dissatisfaction with myself stopped being a burden on me mainly because I finally managed to forget about how much time I had whiled away on rather useless prattle, on a rather copious dinner, and on making life plans.

I have also regained my serenity through vigorously stipulating the following: “From now on, may others accuse themselves of laziness, because as of tomorrow, my old dreams of living not like a lazy good-for-nothing, but rather like a diligent sage, will finally start to come true! It’s finally time to become a more valuable person not only in my fantasies!”


Translated by Mark Ordon


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Jan Stoberski

was a writer. In Kraków, people recall that he lived like a Franciscan monk, never ate too much, went everywhere by foot, and would lend any money he made on literature to others. He would chronically visit people and listen to them.