Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 118: Breathe In, Breathe Out

Apparently this is a bad, bad year for allergy sufferers. Plentiful winter rains here in the desert guarantee a bumper crop of endless greenery and all that green stuff tries to replicate itself much too quickly. The pollen counts are unbelievable. My standard antihistamine regimen has fallen short this year, leaving me gasping for breath for the past two days.

It takes a lot of work to consciously breathe all day long. The chant "breathe in... breath out... breathe in... breathe out" is almost audible in my mind. (I am fairly certain that hearing voices is still not en vogue, psychologically speaking, so we'll leave it at "almost audible.") Over and over as the hours pass I find myself straightening up in my chair and willing myself to breathe evenly. What does this have to do with my worth? What does this have to do with anything?

Basics. Breathing is basic -- we're born knowing how to do it. Even my kids who needed oxygen or visits to the NICU had an innate desire and general idea of how to breathe. We know how to breathe and we don't have to think about it. We take it completely for granted. That is, we do until we can't do it easily. As soon as a cold crops up, or allergies explode, or asthma threatens, or a rogue pillow in the middle of the night plants itself on your face, you suddenly have to think about that next breath. You see how fundamental an exercise getting oxygen into your lungs is. You achieve a sense of acute awareness at how dependent you are on a single element.

A great deal of our lives (at least my life) is spent in the "take things for granted" mode. Even our stresses are somewhat normal for us. When we cross the line, however, into extremes, we discover our utter dependence on something like oxygen. We discover that this moment, right now, is slipping past us. We don't exist in the past, we don't exist in the future. We only exist right now. Now is as basic as it gets. It occurred to me during breaths 23,535 and 23,536 that I have been focusing moment by moment for the past two days -- that's not a bad thing. I think we end up in trouble when the crisis of our extreme passes and we're not so dependent on consciously breathing in and out, consciously focusing on the now. We easily slide back into taking for granted again. The trick is to let go of the stress but not the focus.

I am worth focus. Right now. Being as centered as possible in the current moment is crucial. It's crucial for completing a task, reading a book to my kids, keeping my mood in check, and so on. It means learning to tolerate noise or utter silence or difficult emotions -- realizing that these things pass, just as the moments do. I only have to master right now.
Now... how to do that? Beats the tar out of me. But I'm working on it. Tonight's agenda, however, is breathing. Be well.

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