Learning to Breathe

Where the heck have I been? I haven’t posted a blog in days. It’s my head. I’ve lost it a little, but not in a bad way. My mind is floating in a sea of grocery lists, holiday to-do lists and notes-to-self and yet I find time to think about my sister-in-law’s toaster oven. It is spotless. No crumbs on the bottom, no smears or burnt-on gunk on the glass. And this is not a new toaster oven.

My toaster oven, on the other hand, has crumbs on the bottom that date back to the Clinton administration. I always figured they’d burn up eventually. Besides, the smoke detector doesn’t go off when I bake a potato or cook fish or toast an English muffin so until it does, or the crumb pile grows past the lowest rack setting, I’m leaving well enough alone.

On the surface, people get the impression that I’m wound a little tight, that my sphincter muscle needs to flex a bit. The truth is, I’ve learned to sweep some of the more insignificant things under the rug (sometimes literally) lately, and I look at life through a wider lens.

Take thinking and breathing for instance. Two things we do without, well, thinking about them. I used to wander mindlessly through my days doing what I was supposed to do, staying organized, being on time, careful not to disappoint anyone. I saw messy paw prints on the floor instead of a happy, tail-wagging dog who wanted nothing more than a pat on the head. I’d feed the birds and then walk away, another chore ticked off my list, and not look out the window later to see the cardinals, chickadees, sparrows and an occasional red-breasted woodpecker take in what I laid down.

A hundred good things – a warm day, a phone call from an old friend, a good weigh-in –could happen to me in one day, but they’d all be forgotten when that one bad thing came along and I’d let it steal away all my joy. I didn’t know to step back and put it all in perspective. Actually, like most of us, I never learned how to think through the bad stuff. Stepping around it or beating it to death was always what first came to mind.

Then one day I learned to breathe and to think, not necessarily at the same time. Have you ever just been aware of nothing else but your own breathing? Sitting with your hand on your stomach and feeling it rise and fall? Doing nothing else but paying attention to the rhythm? It’s amazing how this simple act, when done in full awareness of the moment, can ease even the most wild mind.

What I found is that when I learned to breathe, I learned to think – really think – about every moment, not just about the bad stuff or the things I absolutely positively had to do so no one would get upset with me. I learned to balance, to stop, to listen to myself.

The sphincter has relaxed. There’s dust on the coffee table, and I’ve got a toaster with a lot of crumbs piled on the bottom and burnt-on gunk on the glass. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. It just means I’m finally thinking.

This is who helped me learn to breathe and think: http://www.mindfulnesstapes.com/author.html

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