Quit Telling Me to Breathe
In my defense, when I first noticed it was a thing for people to exhort each other to Breeeaaaathe—wasn't that in the eighties?—I was properly irritated. What is this New Age bullshit? Obviously, I'm breathing already or the reminder to breathe would fall on deaf—no, dead—ears. Take your vapid unicorn advice telling me to do what I'm already doing and … So how did I become someone who keeps telling people to breathe?
Well, I haven't. I actually tell people to bring consciousness to the breath. That's different. I even sometimes explicitly acknowledge: You're breathing anyway. Will you simply breathe with awareness, watching the breath go in and out, and insofar as you can, direct that breath to the place in your body that hurts while you're thinking what you're thinking and feeling what you're feeling? That is, direct it to the pain body. And as you do this, you may well notice that this conscious breathing translates to slightly longer, fuller breaths, and that therefore a) you quickly find this calming and anchoring and b) you become the witness of your pain body and slip out of identification with all that messy stuff going on.
Is breath the way to freedom?
In case you're already bored with breath, let me amp up the entertainment factor. This paragraph is brought to you by Star Wars. My son recently had a practitioner ask him to take long, loud breaths that no self-respecting seventh grader would ever go along with. He calls them Darthvader breaths and, when no one else is looking, imitates for me (with what I can only call puke-face) what it would look and sound like if he actually went along with Darthvader breathing. Which, as a self-respecting seventh grader, he most certainly does not. Please know that I'm not asking you to take Darthvader breaths. Remember? Just breathe consciously—you're breathing anyway—directing the breath to the place of pain, and let the breath expand if it will. But don't force it. No puke-face.
Next relevant tangent: I just got interrupted from this writing by someone calling from an airport to talk about the tantruming toddler that is her currently activated pain body. In an effort to disentangle the inner child from the pain body while acknowledging their obvious kinship, I asked her to hold the pain body (awareness and breath) while she holds the tantruming toddler (awareness, maybe visualization) to teach her small self that this pain is containable, it's bearable; this situation is manageable, and her adult self is managing it. But don't put the child in charge of your relationship (or Reader, your whatever), or even in charge of the next step in that realm. Do breathe.
Why bring consciousness to the breath—never mind talk about it, write or read about it, remind people to breathe? Breath is (far) more powerful than we give it credit for. I recently had the pleasure and privilege of attending a workshop on the psychic structures of the nine personality types taught by Russ Hudson, a (I want to say the) preeminent elucidator of the Enneagram. I was fascinated to find that Russ kept bringing his discussion back to the breath as he moved through the types and explained how we can trump the tendencies of our particular personality style.
For the sensitive types (Four, Nine, and Six, though all types have their own sensitivities, and—crucial to remember—we're all ultimately all the types), the emotions can be supported and contained through grounding with the breath. The problem isn't too much sensitivity, Russ explained. The problem is not being grounded in the body. The heart's sensitivity must be contained by the body, and we facilitate this through feeling our feet on the ground, embodying our hips, and bringing consciousness to (you've got it) the breath.
Thus, groundedness gives Fours the capacity to contain their alarming emotions without getting sucked into despair or believing that all of life boils down to what they're feeling in the moment. It gives Nines the confidence to meet life's problems instead of shutting them out. It gives Sixes the ability to get out of the mind's futurizing what-if's and make a good choice for right now. All the types benefit from grounding through the breath. Whatever your type, the breath is your ally in grounding so that you can bring yourself back from your habitual tendencies—whatever unhealthy tactics you default to when the going gets rough.
Why is that? Russ helped me more clearly connect the dots between breath and presence. (Hmm, didn't Be here now come into vogue round about the same time everyone started saying Breathe?) To stay with the examples given above, the Four isn't present when sucked into those compelling emotions; the Nine isn't present when pushing out the inconvenient, intrusive world; the Six isn't present when mentally spinning all the options and their terrifying potential outcomes.
Shall I go through all the types? Please skip ahead to the next paragraph if you don't care to consider each one. The Two isn't present when reaching outward to take care of others without checking inward for self-care needs or personal wants first. The Three isn't present when pushing through all barriers to the glorious finish of a task that every red flag in the vicinity is waving to call a stop to. The Five isn't present when ducking back inward because, once again, relating with the beings who populate the world out there turns out to be less than obvious. The Seven isn't present when jumping mentally to the next activity, the next encounter, the next rush. And Eights and Ones just aren't present when requiring others to get behind what they want (8) or what they consider to be right and good (1).
Is breath the way to freedom? Maybe. I'm pretty sure you can only get free here and now (not irrevocably into forever as fans of enlightenment often strive for), and you can't get free here and now if you're not here, here and now.
Do you want to be present? Do you want to bring consciousness to all you do—or even to some of it sometimes? You need to be grounded to be present. Like a good writer, you need to connect to the senses and the sensory details of the moment. You need to be aware of your body and breath.
If you want to roll your eyes when someone says Breathe, go ahead and roll away. Plenty of us will join you. And then—since you're breathing anyway, and only if you want to get grounded or be present or move toward a bit more freedom from your habitual tendencies, just for right now—do nothing with your breathing but to give it your awareness.
Love & blessings, Jaya
Did you miss my October mailing?
Fact is, there wasn't one. If you'd like to see prior writings and a handful of audio options, click here. Many have been removed as they've been subsumed into my accruing manuscript, but there are a number of valuable nuggets still available.
About the audio: I've been a featured coach on Michael Hsu's Heal from the Ground Up podcast project that included a number of coaches. It turns out the project was short-lived, as Michael's vision shifted to a compilation of his own coaching sessions and monologues about his healing journey.
I had just tuned in to my desire to have my podcasts feature clients from the LGBT community and got a line-up of volunteers to do that with me. The sudden about-face has me plotting and scheming over creating my own podcasts with that population. Stay tuned.
Curious about coaching?
I offer a free 30-minute exploration session by phone or Skype or in person (in Ithaca, NY). To get the free session, just fill out the contact form on my website.
For Facebook types, I post most days with an aim to support your growth and healing, inspire you, remind you of what you already know, keep you in touch with the magic, propose that you think big, and cast my vote for you to keep being ever kinder to yourself. Some popular posts from last month:
One reason impermanence scares us is that we fear our needs won't be met if particular things, people, or circumstances we want to hold onto move out of our lives. A good way to work with impermanence isn't so much to get over it or believe you should love & embrace it, but to allow it, make space for it, be with the pain & poignancy, find the sweet in the bittersweet without dismissing what's bitter. Compassionately witness your own humanity. And open, if you dare, to the possibility that this Universe of plenitude & diversity can meet your needs in ways you haven't even dreamed up yet.
I sat with a client in the pure sorrow of "Someone I respect thinks ill of me." Ay, it feels awful. And we ALL know the feeling. You can't get through a human life without meeting this one. Are you willing? Will you walk yourself away from what they think of you and mind how you think of yourself? You might even prioritize it. You can't set it up so you'll always be in good standing with others. Will you keep coming back to being in good standing with yourself?
How's your capacity to welcome support in the moment? When you're going through something hard, or when things feel sort of relentlessly harsh or tricky, it helps so much to look for all that supports you. (I learned this from Byron Katie.) So instead of thinking how alone you feel or how hard it all is; or when you catch yourself in such thoughts—invite support, watch for it, notice it, connect to it, give thanks. I'm often in awe of how hard times can feel like a series of miracles & surprises and the most unexpected angels showing up in impeccable timing.
There may be no greater modern-day illusion than Not Enough Time. Are you kidding? There's time. And there's choice. And there's awareness of or blindness toward how time is spent. And there's course-correcting when you're off. And there's letting things go completely or paring them down to let more important things in. And there's all manner of scaling for how and how thoroughly you do any given task. And there's procrastination and the possibility of sitting still with the pain of procrastination until you'd just rather face the pain of what you're avoiding. But Not Enough Time? No way.
You know what to do: it comes to you in the form of an inner voice, or external words & events that get your attention, or a wordless inner impulse to act or withhold action. As Byron Katie would say, Follow the simple directions. We get in trouble because we talk back to that inner knowing. We bring in logic to offer the reason why we can't, shouldn't, or don't have to do what the inner dictates say. All that talking back certainly makes sense in logical terms, but in the end it's a list of rationales and justifications for not doing what you know to do, what can bring you into the highest possible version of the moment.