Holding Our Collective Breath

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“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.” ~ Anonymous

I woke up very early the other day, too early for the time I’d gone to bed. As I tried to get myself back to sleep for a bit, I took a very, very deep inhale of breath. It shocked me how good (and foreign) it felt. I realized that in this era of global pandemic, I’ve basically been holding my breath. Many of us have.

But wait, I’ve been meditating, praying, doing some yoga, practicing good breathing. And I realized that’s the only time I’ve actually been breathing. The rest of the time, I’m in a state of fight or flight shallow breathing, which eventually feels almost like holding your breath. The chest grows tight, constricted, and the lungs just barely keep us going.

It’s understandable. We are all in a strange state. We are in limbo, yet hyper-vigilant at the same time. We don’t know how this will play out, we have little control, and we can’t plan for the future. We are in separate lifeboats just trying to figure out each day.

Our breath, thankfully, is part of the autonomic nervous system, bodily functions that happen without us thinking about it. However, our breath and heart rate reflect our state of mind, our emotions, and our fears. When we are scared, our heart rate quickens, and our breath becomes faster and more shallow. We are ready to run.

Only here, in our various states of quarantine, there’s nowhere to go.

Ironically, as we face this catastrophic Covid-19, as so many people are struggling to breathe and survive, it’s increasingly important to add a breathing practice to our daily routine. Here we are, in unprecedented times, wearing face masks when we do venture out, often feeling literally afraid to breathe! But breath is life, and it’s never been more important to breathe more deeply, to relax our nervous systems, and to live in the moment.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Of all our autonomic nervous system functions, the breath is the one we have the most conscious control over. It has a direct influence on the vagus nerve, a nerve that runs throughout the autonomic system. Slow exhalations cause this nerve to relax and bring us closer to a feeling of well-being.

Besides relaxation, the benefits of deep breathing include boosting the immune system, lowering heart rate and blood pressure, reduced depression, improvement in  diabetes, and the management of chronic pain. For me, it also provides a sense of control. I may not be able to control the outward situation, but I can control my response to it. With regular breath practice, I control the effect of the pandemic on my nervous system. I control how much fear I’m willing to experience. Deep breathing in conjunction with meditation or prayer is extremely healing and centering. Even just stopping for a moment, taking a deep breath, filling the lungs, and allowing a long, slow exhale, can re-center us quickly.

“One conscious breath in and out is a meditation.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

When fear and anxiety arise, I use this simple technique to help me stay in the moment.

Breathing in think, “In this moment I have ___________. (water, sun, music, air, etc.)

Breathing out think, “In this moment I need nothing.”

Repeat until you feel calmer. Regulating our breath helps us focus on the present moment, and focusing on the present moment keeps our minds from spiraling into worse-case scenarios.

Dr. Andrew Weil recommends deep breathing as part of any wellness program. Here is a link to three of his favorite exercises. https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/stress-anxiety/breathing-three-exercises/

The world is, indeed, holding its collective breath. Let us take some collective deep breaths, calming the vagus nerve of the planet. Breathe deeply, fill your lungs, hold for a moment, then exhale slowly, blowing out audibly your fear and anxiety. Take some calming breaths for those who cannot – those who we hold in deep compassion; those working on the front lines of this pandemic, those who are fighting for their lives, those who are suddenly unemployed, and those who have been thrown into unforeseen grief.

I pray that one day, we will all breathe easy again. In the meantime, breathe deeply.

“Every breath we draw is a gift of God’s love: every moment of existence is a grace.”

~ Thomas Merton

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

4/7/20

What Does God Think of You?

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“Be kinder than necessary. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~ Plato

This often-quoted statement from Plato is such a wonderful reminder to us to try to be kind, always. It’s so true – if you scratch the surface of anyone you meet, you will find wounds and hurts. Some of us have deep battle scars that make us lash out at others or not behave as our highest self.

So compassion is key. None of us truly know the history or inner workings of anyone else. Not even loved ones we have spent decades with. We might know them well, but we can’t know how their deepest scars might affect their daily life. Compassion is key. We may not understand why someone is behaving a certain way or made choices we find confusing or even hurtful. But if we can remember that they have inner wounds and battles that are causing them to make these choices, we can find compassion.

It is sometimes (often) challenging to find compassion for others, especially people we don’t truly know. Our own loved ones are easier to have empathy for, as we have a better understanding of their battles. So it’s curious that we often have trouble finding compassion for ourselves.

“The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself.” ~ Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou hit the nail on the head. If we can overcome how we think about ourselves, we can soar! Our own self-condemnation, judgment, and doubt often obscure our ability to love ourselves. If we can truly overcome how we think about ourselves, we can find a freedom and sense of security in the world.

I’ve done a lot of work in my life in the field of self-esteem. I’ve worked on it for myself and with countless students as a counselor. Low self-esteem is a core issue for many, many people, formed often in childhood, reinforced by life events, and carried around inside us like a little alien, ready to pop out and ruin our day at the slightest whim! And we know, deep down, that it IS an alien – it doesn’t belong. Because we are beings of Light, children of God, purveyors of Love! That is our truth, but our thoughts, our ego mind, block our true vision.

“I found that there is only one thing that heals every problem and that is: to know how to love yourself.” ~ Louise Hay

Learning to love yourself and be compassionate toward yourself, and your great lumbering, mistake-filled life, is an ongoing process. A life-long process! But something I have found helpful is to try to see myself as God sees me. I try to imagine what God must think of me.

This could be scary to contemplate but think of it this way. If God is the Beloved, the Divine Spark, the profound Love of the Universe, God cannot help but see me with compassion and understanding and forgiveness. God, in this sense, truly is a parental presence.

If you have children you know this well. No matter what your children do as they grow, even as adults, you see that they are still learning and most often doing the best they can. Even when they make mistakes we continue to love them and help them right their sail again. We have compassion for them so easily because our heart is full of so much love for them and it is constant.

So it is with God. God’s love is so all-encompassing that compassion, understanding, and forgiveness are the natural state of God’s relationship to us. And if God is IN us and we are, indeed, God, or OF God, then that profound love for ourselves is available at all times, if we but ask.

“If you saw you as God sees you, you would smile a lot.” ~ Neale Donald Walsch

You have survived trauma in your life, you are healing, you are hurt, you make mistakes, you do things right, you seek help, you avoid help, you try to help others, you are sometimes selfish, you give too much love, you withhold love. You are human.

Now imagine this: God and all of your angels and guardians are amazed that you would choose to learn these lessons so profoundly and so deeply in this life. They are stunned by your courage. They wrap you in compassion nightly, hoping to heal you with enough light to carry you through the next day. God holds you constantly in the heart of Love, amazed at your determination to heal and give compassion to others. You are an astonishment!

So today, practice giving this compassion to yourself. Love yourself. Honor your growth. What does God think of you? God thinks you are a tender, growing soul, deserving of Good, fighting hard battles, and trying to grasp the extreme profundity of Love. Rest in that.

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” ~ Hafiz

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

May 6, 2019