For most people, breathing is one of the simplest things in the world to do. It’s an automatic response while awake and asleep. This can have the unintended side effect of us valuing the action far less than we should.
Something I’ve realised over the past week is how important it is to take the time to intentionally breathe. Let the rest of the world melt away and slowly inhale beautiful oxygen into our lungs, along with all that provides us. Pleasant aromas, a deep sense of place, contentment with those things in our lives which we can often overlook. Then, exhale, just as important a part of the process. Maybe even, with those exhalations, imagine releasing tensions and worries out from ourselves into the air around us. There is a lot more space outside us than within, so they say.
When my mind starts racing at a million miles an hour, it’s usually travelling down negative thought spirals. My instinctive reaction for years has been to focus on them, and try and figure out what’s wrong. Nine times out of ten this increases the stress I’m feeling and leads to those negative thoughts becoming louder and louder. It’s like I’m walking down one side of a street and there’s all these big houses on one side with many people inside, each yelling indecipherable things at each other – and me. On the other side of the street are empty lots, for sale and ready to be built on, and one really quaint house with a creative genius inside quietly whispering all the things that would help. So, I look to cross the street but there is a stream of fast-moving traffic stretching for miles in both directions, and it looks like there will never be a gap.
Sometimes I dodge between the traffic to the other side. On the odd occasion this works and I make it, but it is a dangerous scuttle. And if I get hit by a car it’s like a barrage of those negative thought spirals all slamming front of mind at once. They become even more difficult to ignore.
More often I am put off by the endless traffic and just walk quickly along the cacophonous side of the street I am on. Outside of the metaphor in the real world, this means I mentally shut down and verbal communication becomes extremely difficult, sometimes impossible. Again, not a desirable outcome most of the time.
I am learning there is a third option for me. Slow down to an eventual stop. Breathe deeply, and invite God into that space with me. I look at the traffic streaming in both directions. It seems scary at first, but continuing to slowly and intentionally breathe I can eventually make eye contact with some of the drivers. Outside the metaphor this means identifying the underlying things my mind has been racing through too quickly to decipher. God helps me realise which of these are important and which I can let pass by, as they are not important to engage with now. Eventually I am able to cross the road and approach the quaint little house. Sometimes I’m even invited inside to sit with a cup of tea, calmly watching the world out the window, and to simply be.
Time with God is like this. Peace warmer and more refreshing than even the most wonderfully brewed cup of tea.
If a mind running far too fast is something you can relate to, this third option may be something that helps you. But please remember, there are many other options which are healthy for you to engage with. Because you are not me. And this is a wonderfully amazing thing because no one is a better you than you!
* * *
My friend, how are you?
Is this weekend a time you can slow down, spend time in the sun, or listen to rain on the roof, and just breathe?
* * *
We all need to slow down sometimes. Knowing it and choosing to do it are two different things. Value yourself, and take the time when you need it.
(Cover photo: me out and about enjoying the beautiful waterfront walk in Wellington, on a rare calm day.)