I’ve not written much for months. But I’ve been breathing in and out just the same. Pretty forgettable behavior. In fact, we breathe automatically, without even thinking. Unless we can’t. Or unless we become intentional about centering prayer, about listening to life happen within us. I’d like to claim that’s what I have been doing instead of writing. And I have. Some. However, we can’t stay focused on our breathing all the time. We’d hyperventilate, or become neurotic, or both. Sometimes we just need to breathe and not think about it. That’s an important part of life’s balance, too. Not obsessing. Just being.
So that’s my excuse, my attempt at apology for not writing. But, like holding my breath, withholding my words makes me comatose eventually. And I must start writing again. Like I must also pray. Like I must also breathe. Intent, prayer, breath are part of my autonomic nervous system, sometimes I regulate them, but mostly they regulate me. Fascinating design plan. Worth contemplating this morning as I write because I must.
So I wonder — what if we tried to live by only taking in air and not letting it go? Maybe we’d be designed like puffer fish and bounce through life like a dirigible. But our breathing teaches us we are designed for both taking in and letting go. I believe the Designer made us this way on purpose. Our very lives depend on a process that becomes a metaphor for everything we do. We receive; we give. We take in; we let go. However, in much of our existence we seem to relish the taking and resist the releasing. At least that’s my observation and my own experience.
In my present circumstances, I am preparing to fill my life with new vistas, new people, new experiences. But to do so I must let go of familiar sights, friends, and good times in this place I’ve lived for thirty years. Sometimes I literally hold my breath when I anticipate the struggle that change – even good change – brings. Then I remind myself that the lesson I have learned in the struggle of the last three years is the necessity of trust. I must accept change and trust the Universe with the outcome. Even if I made no apparent changes in my life, change would come. I age, I get new problems to solve, I meet new friends and lose track of old ones. Finally, I die. That’s the ultimate breathing out humans most furiously resist. Yet, the only way I know to find peace amidst change is to breathe in and breathe out. On purpose. Take over temporary control and choose each step in the process. Live. Intentionally. Choose to trust the design and the Designer.
Perhaps it’s easier if we learn the art of release a little at a time. So I’m practicing. To do that I’ve decided I must first take time to relish the joy of taking in. As I go through my closets, I remember the time I wore those shoes on a cruise. Then I put them in the “to donate” box. As I pack away vases for the auction, I remember the bouquet that came for my birthday. I’ve found that if I take in a deep breath of life, then I can release joy into the universe. Can I breathe like that all the time? No! I’m sure by the auction date, I will be operating from my sympathetic nervous system, feeling “flight or fight” adrenaline filling and emptying my lungs like a squeeze box. But even that experience is a part of my life to accept, even to relish and remember when later I need a reminder that I survived that challenge and will yet survive more.
I am reminded of an anecdote from Madeleine L’Engle about preparing for a cross-country move to a smaller home. A friend came to help her pack and to decide how to dispose of many favorite things. For a time they pondered over a beautiful vase that had been a gift. Madeleine’s heart was grieved to think of letting it go. The friend held the vase lovingly for a moment, then dropped it and let the memory shatter on the floor. Madeleine’s commentary on the moment: “I told you she was practical.” Sometimes change must be ruthless. When I first read that account, I shuddered. Now I’m wondering where one finds such a friend. Or rather, finds the courage to ask her to help.
So I write today to report that I’ve spent this time of silence gaining on the habit of intentional breathing. Taking in life and releasing joy is a gratitude exercise I’m finding easier and easier to practice. But it’s a process. My lungs can do it. My spirit can do it, intermittently. Now – if I can just get my mind to accept that meaning is not in things, meaning is in me – I’m sure, with practice, my mental breathing will grow deeper and more intentional as well.