As I lay there in the early morning darkness, I took a deep breath, sighing it out slowly as I closed my eyes to squeeze just a few more moments of “bedtime” before the canine alarm sounded.
Lately, our dog, Sadie, has determined that the best time for her – and consequently, us -- to start her day is between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. (And who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, right?)
At such time, she spends three to five minutes walking around in the dark (mind you, her world is always dark; she’s been blind for three years), scratching at things (i.e., herself, the carpet, her makeshift bed in the corner), wandering around the room running into anything and everything.
After all this, if none of the humans in the room (Joan or I) has acknowledged her presence, she’ll let out one short, loud, emphatic bark, signaling that she is ready to begin checking off her “to do” list, and that means, so am I, like it or not.
Mind you, her morning to do list is short, and includes relieving herself, eating breakfast (which lately has become more of a midnight snack), wandering around the first floor, and ultimately, finding a place to nap, which usually happens just about the moment I realize I’m fully awake.
But this isn’t about Sadie’s morning ritual; it’s about big breaths. (Careful how you read that, especially if it’s out loud.) In short, and without sounding too “out there,” life is marked by big breaths. (I apologize if your mind is somewhere else after reading the words “big breaths” a couple of times, but if it is, I might suggest you get it out of the gutter and back on the topic at hand.)
It’s true, though, isn’t it? Everything that happens in life – everything that matters or affects us – either begins, ends (or both) with a big, deep breath. And while the action – and according to experts in things like yoga and mindfulness – tends to have the same physical effects on our bodies regardless of the reason, a deep draw of air followed by a long exhalation can mean so many different things.
Sometimes, it’s anxious, like when our kids are on a field or stage, playing or performing in front of a crowd. Sometimes, it’s in preparation, like right before we jump out of a perfectly good airplane … something we’ve paid to do just to experience it. (Go figure.)
We take deep breaths when we’re given or receive bad news, or when we’re about to go into a situation that’s foreign or new. And we breathe big and deep after we’ve experienced a close call (the car that almost hit us at the intersection or the heavy bowl that fell off the counter, just missing our big toe).
We take big, deep breaths out of habit (i.e., the long draw on a cigarette, relaxing for some, just the opposite for others), and we take that same long draw just before we blow out the candles on a birthday cake.
The list goes on and on: watching your future bride walk down the aisle, lying down after a great meal, trying to keep our composure after someone or something has disgusted or angered us, etc., and along with that, all the little phrases, mantras and sounds that accompany these moments.
At the ballgame: “C’mon Jack, get a hit. God, please just let him get a hit!”
On the massage table: “Ah, that feels so good!”
Going into a job interview: “OK, stay calm. You can do this.”
Having dinner with your friend and her fiancé, the one you don’t like: “Just smile and be nice. Remember, you’re not the one marrying him.”
After a great meal: “I’m stuffed! I need a nap.”
I could go on, but I think you get where I’m coming from. We know that without consistent, constant breath – something that happens without thought or, in most cases, any effort or specific skill set -- we would die. And so, it’s no exaggeration to say that breath is life.
But it’s also symbolic, a recurring character playing a huge role in our lives, marking every major and minor transition. Breath is what keeps us alive, but it’s also what helps us move from “now” to “what’s next,” whether it’s good or bad, easy or difficult, happy or sad.
Our breath helps us regulate, cope and thrive. It prepares us for things, but it also carries us through those very same things.
So, when I say, “Life is all about big breaths,” it sounds funny (and a little inappropriate), but it’s true, isn’t it? And, without getting too far into the weeds on the topic, maybe we should think more about this process that most of the time happens without any thought or effort at all.
Maybe we should be more conscious of the breaths we take, what they mean and how we’re using them.
This morning at 3:07 a.m., when I first heard Sadie, I took a deep breath to keep from getting frustrated because I didn’t want to get up yet. Some days, I mutter some “not so friendly” things at that point, but today I closed my eyes, and as I exhaled, I simply whispered, “OK, Sadie, I guess it’s time to start our day.”
And five minutes later, as I stood shivering on the front porch watching our old, blind dog search for a place to go to the bathroom (her first checkbox on her daily “to do” list), I still wasn’t ecstatic about being awakened at 3:07 a.m. But I was more relaxed and accepting of the situation than I would have been had I let my early-morning frustration get the best of me.
And it was my breath, and specifically, how I controlled it that put me in a better place. I’m no
yogi or neuroscientist, but I have to say, while we all know breath is what physically keeps us alive, the psychological and emotional power of our breath can help determine the quality of our lives.
Now, get your mind out of the gutter and breathe in the “good life” today.
© 2019 David R. Haznaw