Learning to Breathe

At the very beginning, when I had just started this blog I mentioned that I wanted to learn to keep a mindfulness meditation practice.

Here, years later, I haven’t quite gotten around to that yet. But I’m getting closer.

My mind goes a million miles a minute, and often my mouth goes faster. I type quickly, I text quickly and my thoughts jump ahead of me. Especially when I am in stress or conflict.

I very often find that in moments of intensity (whether intense concentration or intense emotion), I am holding my breath. When I am nervous, when I am angry or worried, when I am deep in thought; what all of these moments share is the discovery that I’ve pressed my tongue tight up against the back of my teeth and that my head is a bit dizzy from lack of breath.

There have been many breathless moments this year. With work and home life moving full speed ahead, and the familial stress-test of wedding planning, this is no surprise. At the intersection of expectations, hopes, family histories and futures, things can get a little crazy.

My mom and I have had a particularly challenging road this year. I know lots of brides and mother-of-the-brides have their bumps, but I am really close to my mom and I hate it when we aren’t able to find our groove together.

A few weeks ago she started telling me about a woman she met at a seminar at the Eselan Institute in Big Sur, CA. She always tells me about people she meets who have a connection to Michigan (Probably because like most coast-dwellers with no family connection to the middle states, we are always a little surprised that everyone else seems to have roots here). This time she had a met a psychologist who also practices meditation and who happens to live right in my area. Excitedly, my mom encouraged me to call her. I didn’t immediately, with a full-time job, life to manage and a wedding to plan I felt too short on time to take on another obligation. Eventually, just days before the Dr. Donna was scheduled to leave town for a while, my mom reminded me one last time to give her a call.

Breathe_ReadySetSarah

Image via Ready Set Sarah

It seems to me that when there are significant shifts in my life, moments where I can feel my emotional energy shifting, everything slows down and gets more vivid. The light is brighter, the contrasts of shadows and light are striking and the beauty and complexity of everyday things strike me as important details to be remembered and studied.

When I pulled up to Dr. Donna’s house the next Monday I was happy to be off work a little early, but also a bit nervous that I was meeting someone new. Pulling around the winding driveway to Dr. Donna’s house I took in my breath, this time with excitement as I absorbed the moment. The light broke through in rays and bounced of the white puffs of pollen floating gracefully down from the stately trees. I could see past the mid-century modern home and through the tall triangle of the windows, that it sat on the edge of a quiet lake.

I was early, but Dr. Donna was ready to for me and welcomed me through the tall heavy doors and into the spacious living room. We started with some friendly discussion of my mother, and a bit of background about Dr. Donna and her professional and personal background that led her to practicing and teaching mindfulness meditation. I listened hungrily and grew eager at the chance that this might actually be the beginning of my practice. Self-conscious at moments that she might think me a total mess, I cautiously shared my desire to find some release from my hyper-vigilance over life.

In those moments listening to her talk, sipping ice water from a mason jar and watching the pollen float past the window in this idyllic scene, it was so much clearer to me how desperately I’ve longed for a release from my anxiety and stress. How desperately I’ve missed being present in my life.

With just a few weeks left in our wedding year, I can feel the moments slipping past and I want to hold on to each one. I’ve let life and comparisons and internal dialogues distract me from enjoying the happy moments and memories this year. I don’t want to miss any more.

The urgency of these desires heightened the emotionality of the moment and my resolve that I was exactly where I was meant to be that day. As Dr. Donna took me through the parts that make up a mediation practice, breaking down the breath, sitting and the meanings and options in mediation practice, I could feel my body unravel and relax.

Dr. Donna taught me that when I meditate I should simply notice my thoughts when they arrived or when I caught myself thinking, and that in that moment of recognizing the thought for what it is, I am already returning to the focus on breathing and sitting. Most surprising in this was that I found it really difficult to breathe steadily and naturally. I realized how shallow my breathing is, and how uncomfortable I was with deep and slow breathing.

As we practiced, I could feel my breaths get deeper, longer and slower, and in time with my breathing, my emotions responded with calmness, and joy. At the same time as I was relaxing I felt an energy that seemed to stem from my heart. I haven’t felt that natural verve for life since winter settled down over us and the days got short.

The one thought I had that made me smile and well-up before I labeled it thinking and returned to my breath- This is my mother’s gift. This is my mother’s way of being with me this year. This is her way of being the my mother-of-the-bride that I couldn’t ask for because I didn’t know that it was exactly what I needed. And just like that I could feel that even from across the country and from difficult places in our lives, my mother is still my closest friend.

Sure, we have had our bouts since that day, but it was in this moment that I realized that she was supporting me in her own ways, and I love her for it.

I’ve also used a few of the techniques Dr. Donna taught me that day, mostly to notice my reactions and try and bring my breathing back to a slow and steady rhythm when I find myself winding up. It hasn’t always worked so far, but I’m sure I’ll get there.

Love,

Sarah

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