Sometimes the best advice is the most simple. For me it is the reminder to breathe. When my husband and I first started dating he would say it often. I’d get all worked up about a decision or exasperated trying to explain something and he’d simply say, “Breathe, Rachel.” He is a man of incredible patience.
One afternoon we took a long walk in the woods. I had no idea where we were, but I just trusted that he knew how to get back to the truck. After a couple hours I started to panic, I was certain we were lost and would be walking in the rain indefinitely. He reassured me that everything was fine and that we were not lost. After I didn’t calm down, he suggested that I take several deep breaths. I did and within a few moments, I could see the color of the truck flickering through the trees. We were absolutely fine.
My dad studied martial arts extensively while I was a teenager. I often got overwhelmed by the world around me, and he took the time to teach me about the advantages of deep breathing—taking in as much air as possible into the lungs and letting it out slowly and completely. It is an exercise that is incredibly rejuvenating and if done five or ten times can feel like hitting an internal reset button.
The other breathing exercise I have recently become fond of is meditation. For along time, I just could not meditate. I found myself trying to implement those deep breaths my dad taught me and the next thing I knew, my mind was off racing with bits of worry and anxiety. In the past couple months I’ve learned to experience meditation differently. It is not about taking those deep, giant, cleansing breaths. It is about breathing naturally and tuning into the feeling of it. For me, it really took the effort of giving myself permission to experience something as ordinary as normal breathing and a little extra oomph to keep from falling asleep.
The extraordinary thing that came from my meditation practice continues to be the sense of awareness. Not only did I become aware of my own breath, but also the tightness in my jaw, my wrinkled forehead, my reoccurring dreams, and worries that won’t leave my mind. But the beauty is that I don’t have to do anything but recognize their existence. My body becomes a safe place in which I learn to say, “It’s ok to feel this way.”
The book that has helped me to begin appreciating meditation was The Mindful Path through Shyness by Steven Flowers. Shyness serves as my default “safe-place” to be. The sad thing is that my shyness becomes reinforced by ideas of what others might think. It is just silly to think you know what others think (especially of yourself). But now I have the ability to be aware when those defense mechanisms go into affect. Tonight is one of those nights. I desperately want to cancel the appointment I have tomorrow morning to go over my business plan. I want to work on it from the comfortable confines of my couch. I don’t want some stranger who is a business consultant to walk me through it. Of course I am nervous, I’ve got some huge opportunities on my plate. But, for the first time in awhile anxiety is starting to take over. Not to mention I’ll have to drive on a road that goes through a lake to get there (the setting of a reoccurring dream that terrifies me most every night.) Now before I decide I need to take a Xanax, I am going to do something else. I am going to try to acknowledge the anxiety, accept that it is there, understand why it might be reasonable to feel anxious, and continue to breathe. We all know what happens if we stop breathing—we’ll turn blue and pass out. I’d say that it would probably be worth it for me to keep on breathing.