I have been enjoying this blog and am pleased to be getting comments and commentary here. Of course, sometimes the comments I get are spamtastic, but there was one I got the other day that really got my mind turning. At first, I thought it was one of those strange comments that I would just hit delete on, but something made me take a breath and re-read it. This is what the person said:
“As there can be no breathing without movement, and no movement without breath, we learn of the power of life contained in each breath we take.”
I was glad I took a breath. I didn’t totally get it, but it kind of blew my mind. Taking a breath is a good idea.
In fact, there’s lots of research on why the act of being mindful about your breathing—and in stressful situations, remembering to breathe—is really good for us. It isn’t hard to get twisted up and turned around. Seeing as we are capable of having anywhere from five to nine thoughts simultaneously, we can get overwhelmed pretty quickly. Taking a breath (or several) allows us to collect ourselves a bit and figure out where we’re going next…how we will respond to the onslaught…how we want to be moving within whatever it is we’re facing.
Taking a breath doesn’t change the material circumstances. Taking a breath doesn’t change that your job is hard, or that your mother is dead, or that your kids aren’t listening to you and one of them just threw up on you after having stolen the hidden stash of chocolate from the way-high-up-cupboard. If you’re in an argument with your partner, taking a breath doesn’t change that s/he (or you) is (or are) being a jerk. But it does change how we might react to whatever’s in front of us. In an argument with someone you care about, it’s pretty easy to go straight for the zinger that will shut down the other side. But usually we’re then left with feeling crumby that we were hurtful, and whatever we were originally hurt about is now off the table for resolution, because we now have some humble pie to shovel down. Taking a breath may help us to contribute meaningfully to the resolution of the problem.
Taking a breath can also give us time to figure out what we can change, and what we simply must accept (check out the last post on acceptance). Taking a breath may save us from wasting a ton of energy on trying to move a mountain, rather than figuring out how to like where we are, or how to scale the mountain. In the breathing, we can move back into ourselves and listen more keenly to what our real needs and values are.
Of course, sometimes, knowing what our needs and values are doesn’t always impel us to action, and that’s ok, too. I keep thinking of Ingrid Michaelson’s song “Keep Breathing.” She sings ethereally:
The storm is coming, but I don’t mind
People are dying, I close my blinds
All that I know is I’m breathing, now.
Sometimes breathing is enough. Sometimes it’s what we do to hold on when the roller coaster is full tilt and we hadn’t really planned on buying that particular ticket, but there we are, sitting at the front of the train. It’s not that closing her blinds is callous or unfeeling—it’s that sometimes we have to accept that which we cannot change, and all we can do is keep breathing. We just keep breathing until we figure out what’s next. And we do our best.
The breathing isn’t complicated. In fact, we come by it quite naturally. Taking a breath is just taking a moment to take in air through your nose trying to fill your belly, pause, and slowly let it out through your mouth. If you’re tense, you probably can’t and don’t breathe deeply, so don’t force it, because then you’ll hyperventilate and think you’re having a panic attack and then you’ll be doubly miserable. Take in a breath that is comfortable at your current rate of breathing, and just try to imagine each breath getting slightly more drawn out, until you can get your heart rate back down to something manageable. You’ll figure out what comes next. You’ll do your best.