“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”–Emma Lazarus
I looked around a Metro car late one evening and the last lines of this poem came to mind. I thought how tired and poor many of the people looked and probably felt. Later in a yoga class, I had a similar feeling while looking around the class. Here was a group of people who were probably tired at the end of the day, maybe poor in spirit and they were huddled together in a large room “yearning to breathe free.”
Emma Lazarus’s famous poem "The New Colossus” was written in 1883 and inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903. It has become a poem representing immigration and the desires of those arriving to the U.S. on a boat or a plane and seeing Lady Liberty for the first time. But it was those few words of “yearning to breathe free” that demanded my attention. Yearning, it’s a word we don’t use much anymore, when we yearn, we ache, we hurt, we hunger, it is an intense almost painful desire. We might miss someone or desire to see a friend, but that is not a yearning. To yearn is an intense deep longing for something that can fulfill or satisfy us.
The reason we come to meditation, the reason we come to a yoga mat is that we all yearn to breathe free. For whatever reason we started meditation, for concentration, to quiet our mind, or to find answers to questions about ourselves and the world, we are all yearning to breathe free. For if we can breathe free, we can live free. As yoga is a training for the body and pranayama for the breath, meditation is the training for the mind. We come to meditation to train ourselves in the pathway of freedom. Through the practice of sitting and noticing our thoughts, noticing our feelings and desires as they arise, we are starting the process of freeing ourselves from their control. We are on a path towards freedom.
The next time you walk into a yoga class or get on a subway car, look around you, every person you see, their deepest desire is to be free. We are all “yearning to breathe free.”