|Artwork by me. Inspired by my dear friend.|
I didn't always know how to breathe. In fact, prior to 2005, I did not realize that breathing was even something one paid attention to. I simply left the job up to my autonomic nervous system. Autonomic...automatic...autopilot...what's the difference?
And then I met Jeana.
Jeana came into my life at one of those points when everything else seemed to be leaving. I had just taken a new job in St. Paul at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. I was also in the midst of the devastating collapse of a 22-year marriage and role as pastor's wife in the rural Midwest. Having raised our daughters in a town of 150 (of which we were 7), the Twin Cities felt much like stepping off a cliff in the black of night. Every single piece of my foundation had seemed to crumble away. It was truly my darkest hour.
One of the first gifts Jeana gave me was a framed piece of Japanese art. On this beautiful picture were these words, "Inhale. Exhale. Breathe In Life." Little did I know the impact these words and this friend would have on my world. As the years have gone by, I have learned much about breathing from Jeana. Her direct and gentle persistence throughout the ups and downs of my days has not only changed the course of my life and the lives of my daughters, but has opened my heart and created a desire that at times seems almost unquenchable. A desire that continues this day to lead me down a path of self-awareness, acceptance and compassion.
I've thought of Jeana a lot this past week. Hearing her voice, feeling her soft touch on my shoulder, reminding me to breathe. It's not so automatic, this breathing. The world sneaks in and the next thing I know, my shoulders are tight, my breath is shallow and life seems more like something that is happening to me than with me.
What dawned on me is that when I find myself sitting there, out of breath, this is exactly what I am doing. I have stopped being present in the moment and I have gotten myself all caught up in some story. The solution? Pema says, "Drop the story line and just abide with the energy." Ouch. We don't like to do this! I don't like to feel pain. I don't like to feel lonely. I don't like to feel hungry. I don't like to feel hurt. So what do I do? I try to get some bit of relief by telling myself a story. And it never works.
So, this week I put my enlightenment to the test, on two different occasions. My first opportunity was after IVIg on Monday. On a scale of one to ten, one being a fairly uneventful infusion and ten being plain old miserable - this one ranked at about a nine. I felt sick during the entire infusion and the days that preceded it were filled with nausea, digestion issues, headache and pain. At one particular point I found myself spiraling downward, contemplating all that needs to be done this week in preparation for a graduation party and a week filled with company. The story was pretty good.
My second opportunity was after hearing something less than desirable about myself. Whether or not there is validity in the statement has little impact. No one wants to hear about his or her shortcomings - real or not. It's painful to think that we are not perfect in the eyes of those we love. Especially our children. And it's easy to get caught up in trying to figure out the why or in trying to prove one's innocence. Another pretty good story.
In both situations, I was able to realize what I was doing and give the whole "abiding with the energy" business a shot. Was it difficult? You bet! Was it worth it? Absolutely! First of all, stopping the story takes away a lot of the energy. In the situation where I was feeling sick, the minute I broke free of the story I felt a distinct peacefulness fall over my body. The pain was still there - in fact, there were moments where it seemed more intense and the temptation was to tear up and start the whole "woe is me" line - but I caught myself. And the more I was able to just abide with the energy of not feeling well, the more I was able to breathe. Soft, gentle, slow breaths. Just being.
In the situation where I had gotten my feelings hurt, stopping the story shortened the whole ordeal dramatically. Not only was I feeling better sooner, I did not aggravate the situation by responding inappropriately or making false assumptions. I realized the situation for what it was, allowed myself to just feel the energy of being sad, and moved on. Because I did not respond out of my hurt, because I was in control of my breath, a wonderful conversation later ensued and it was a cherished opportunity for compassion and growth.
"Inhale. Exhale. Breathe in Life." I am so thankful for these words and the reminder they have become for me to be present in this life. They have inspired me in so many ways - the books I read, the poetry I write, the paintings I paint. Breathing means being present. Being present means recognizing what's going on in my world. And as Pema states, "Never underestimate the power of compassionately understanding what's going on."
Blessed breathing to you.