Just Breathe

How often, when everything seems out of control, are we reminded to just breathe? And so, we take a deep, cleansing breath, allowing the oxygen to fill our lungs and feed our body. And then…we hold it. How often, when things seem out of control, do we forget to exhale? We forget that everything has a cycle, that every season comes and goes, bringing life and letting it go. We forget that every inhale must have an exhale. It is the only way we can keep breathing.

I don’t know if it is Covid, or American Politics, or just a recognition that 2020 has been hard on all of us, but I notice I am holding on to a lot of tension in my body. I try to focus on releasing that tension, but inevitably I find my shoulders up at my ears, my jaw clenched, and tension around my eyes.

It became quite apparent to me as I watched the results of the US election pour in, and then pause, and then change, and finally be called. It was as if, for a moment, I could exhale. And then, just as quickly, I inhaled again, but this time with anticipation of the possibility of a better future.

As I watch the Coronavirus numbers in Ontario creep and leap higher, I feel that same tension, the uncertainty of what it will mean for holiday gatherings, for schools and hospitals and for my and many others’ loved ones. I wonder when it will end. And then, news of a possible vaccine, stories of neighbours showing up for one another again, seeing someone you know is smiling under their mask because it shows in their eyes…and there’s the exhale. And then inhale again, with anticipation for innovation and possibilities for an end to this pandemic.

Parker Palmer is an author and teacher who writes and speaks about the relationship between the cycles of life and the breath. I recently read a reflection written by Palmer about Autumn and letting go. In it, Palmer reminds us that in Autumn, as the leaves are changing and the days are growing cooler and shorter, that nature is planting seeds which will bring life back in the spring.

He reminds us that we can not have the beauty and abundance of spring and summer, without the work of autumn and winter. We can’t experience and enjoy the light, without first experiencing darkness (something I really experienced yesterday when the power went out in my neighbourhood for four hours after it was already dark). There is no joy without loss, no life without death. And no inhale without an exhale.

The inhale brings new beginnings, new possibilities. The inhale begins life. Our first task in life is to inhale. ⁠

The exhale allows us to let go, to release. It symbolizes an ending and opens us up to receive something new. Just as life begins with an inhale, life ends with an exhale.

Both are necessary. Each needs the other. Inhale and exhale match one another throughout our entire lives, existing in perfect rhythm. ⁠

Parker also talks about how preoccupied we are with the inhale. We want the new. We want the bright. We want the warm and beautiful, and we want it without letting go. However, we can’t be inhale-only people. We physically can not inhale without first exhaling.

This season of fall is an exhale season. Nature reminds us to breathe. Trees drop their leaves in a vibrant exhale. Darkness comes earlier and reminds us to rest.

For me, remembering to exhale in this season of my life, to let go of anger and frustration and learning to be okay with uncertainty, is allowing me to inhale possibility and hope and wisdom.

Moving into winter, the exhale will mean allowing myself time to rest. It will mean simplifying and saying no thank you to invitations that don’t nourish me. It will mean noticing the space created by letting go, just as there is space when the trees let go of their leaves.

For me, fall and winter will be about letting go and being intentional about nourishing my body, my mind, my spirit, my relationships. It will be a reminder that I don’t always have to inhale.

What will it look like for you?!

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