Breathing in Words: Silent Breath in Poetry and Tarot

If you’re stuck in a poem or Tarot reading, try this: breathe. Just breathe. Let’s talk about how silent breath—breathing in words—can help break through writing blocks.

Poetry and Tarot are often performed with breath—read aloud. Some scholars have deemed that spoken poetics are “lesser” than poems on the page. In Dancing at the Edge of the World, Ursula Le Guin writes:

The poem that works better orally can be dismissed as a “performance piece,” with all the usual disparagements of oral texts: primitive, crude, repetitive, naïve, etc.

Tarot, like poetry, is sometimes dismissed for the same reasons. Within Tarot, however, spoken readings are privileged over written readings (such as reading for yourself in a journal or email readings). So, while I think that oral poetry deserves more respect, I’d like to focus on silent poetry and Tarot readings for now.

Poems and Tarot readings that are on the page can be enhanced by breath in a way that spoken language cannot—words can be breathed in. Generally speaking, it’s difficult to clearly articulate with your mouth when inhaling. One must breathe out to give words life, and the importance of inhaling when reading aloud is the importance of silence, the spaces between words.

When reading (Tarot or poetry) silently, one can pronounce words clearly while breathing in. Some popular meditation programs, such as those offered by Deepak Chopra, use a silent mantra. Chopra explains that the silent mantra creates a “mental vibration that allows the mind to experience deeper levels of awareness,” which can also aid readers of Tarot and poetry.

Breathing in is a way to infuse and channel words as well as a way to dwell in words. Mary K. Greer discusses breath in her section on purification with the elements in Tarot for Your Self—breathing in is associated with “drawing” in or recharging fire, earth, water, and air (exhaling is associated with releasing and radiating out).

Silent breath allows for repetition; the reader can inhale and exhale the same words to experience them in different ways. Breathing in words is a way to take language into the self, while breathing out is a way of giving language to others.

Exercises to develop silent breath in poetry and Tarot

Part 1. Try reading the following lines from W.B. Yeats’ Blood and the Moon once while inhaling and a second time while exhaling:

Upon the dusty, glittering windows cling,
And seem to cling upon the moonlit skies,
Tortoiseshell butterflies, peacock butterflies,
A couple of night-moths are on the wing.

Did the words sound different in your mind when read while inhaling and exhaling? For instance, did you feel like the butterflies clung to you when breathing in and like they fluttered their wings in response to your exhalation? Did you see the inside and outside of the window by changing your breath?

Write your personal responses in your Tarot journal, and pay attention to which words you write while breathing out and breathing in. What (different) thoughts come into your mind about the poem when you exhale and inhale?

Part 2. Write about the same set of Tarot cards while inhaling and exhaling. I pulled three cards from Paulina Cassidy’s deck: Six of Swords, Ten of Pentacles, and The Magician (reversed).

tarot breath

I recommend writing based on the timing of your own breath. Write while inhaling. Stop, and pick up your pen (or lift your hands from the keyboard) between breaths. Then write while exhaling.

Here’s what I wrote while breathing out: intellectual communication for decent pay can reorient performance.

And here’s what I wrote while breathing in: sending transient thoughts into the fully formed earth can show what you perform for your self.

Some variations include writing while only breathing in and pausing while breathing out (and vice versa).

Once you become aware of your breath and how it affects your silent readings, you can draw energy from breathing in words when you get stuck. Just breathe. And allow breath to guide you back to your flow.

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