A couple of years ago I had a friend who was depressed, angry, and life was spiraling away from her. For purposes of this story, let’s call her Susan. Susan was a successful executive and a breast cancer survivor, but she suffered a divorce and since had little success keeping men in her life. She could manage to keep a client happy and impressed, but her personal life was crumbling all around her. She imagined stress everywhere and would create it to prove herself right. Pretty soon she began to lose friends and as you can imagine, her sleeping and health despite exercising daily and good eating habits began to deteriorate. Could I help she asked?
Susan was a handful to say the least. She could provide you with five reasons why every suggestion you would offer might help others, but not her. That said, she knew she needed help and was getting desperate. Finally we hit upon something – breathing. I asked her to slow down and consider each breath she was taking. I asked her to be grateful for and sincerely experience each breath she took for a period of fifteen minutes at least once every day.
Breathing not only works for us on a physical level, but also an internal or spiritual level as well. When you slow and really become aware of your breathing, you experience your interdependence with the total environment around you. We are dependent upon clean air and we share the air with those around us, not only every other person, but all living things. That unites us in creation and life.
Life begins and ends with breath. Experience a newborn baby or someone on their death bed, and you begin to realize breathing in a different light – very impactful.
Serious illness can quickly cut through our normal busy operating mode to bring us to a halt. When you are seriously ill, you can’t experience things as you had expected to and had planned. You are forced to let go of your expectations and live in the moment. Healing begins when you begin to start living life one breath at a time.
I suggested to Susan that she slow down and begin to live her life with gratitude for each breath, to appreciate the richness and fullness that spelled her vitality and connection to everything. Was this some kind of New Age psycho babble she challenged me? Like the ill person or the person beginning or departing their physical body, breathing draws us into the fluidity of each waking moment. With each breath we can see that life is just this breath. Susan was nearing total depression so what did she have to lose?
I suggested to Susan that each day she take a meditative posture sitting with her back straight, shoulders back slightly, and her pelvis tilted slightly forward. In this position her chest would be free to expand and her abdomen could move in and out freely. I asked her to close her eyes and simply observe her own breathing, to contemplate and appreciate each movement and not to judge herself or anything, but simply to observe – a form of meditation.
(If you have a problem being restless with this process, I suggest that you count your exhalations. Count each exhalation with the first taking one, the second being one, two; the third being one, two, three, all the way until you reach ten. When you find yourself drifting off into thought, simply start your counting again. While you may have trouble at first getting beyond four, within a few weeks getting to ten becomes rather easy. Just be patient with yourself and trust the process.)
Become aware of each breath with your attention directed toward your belly. Attending to your breath in your belly gets you out of your head and into your body. This helps with our tendency for self-talk and over-intellectualizing. When you find yourself too busy with self-talk, you bring your attention back to your breath. Be patient, it takes practice. Eventually you can just sit.
Sitting in silence helps us wake up and become fully present with the body, mind, and spirit right now. You become alive and more sensitive to everything around you. You also open yourself to all the thoughts and feelings that pass through you, getting to know yourself more fully. And in an attitude of openness, acceptance, and gratitude, you are free to embrace your whole self and realize that you are not separate from others, the earth, or the universe.
The word “heal” comes from an Old English word meaning to “make whole.” When you truly internalize that you are not apart from anything or anybody, but part of a whole, you experience healing. Susan soon discovered that becoming grateful for every breath, and quieting herself to become increasingly aware of the wholeness of her life was the foundation of healing – and all healing begins with self-healing. This applies to whatever religious philosophies you may follow. Within a few weeks, Susan began to really embrace and love her life and herself. The smile returned to her face and the joy to her heart. Surely, she would still visit fear, judgment, and anger from time to time, but now she realized how wonderful and rich life is – even during the darkness. And her visits to the dark side became brief.
Today Susan is one of the most radiant and joyful people you will ever meet. No one would ever imagine the darkness, hate, and anger she once experienced. She attracted a wonderful man, restored her circle of friends, and is finding new satisfactions from her work. Her health is strong and her vitality is something others aspire to. She quiets herself everyday at least once to appreciate each breath and experience life – her life.
As Susan’s friend and coach, we were able to prove to one another that we all can be our own best coaches and we have the innate genius within us to heal and create miracles. So rather than speed through your life in an automatic pilot mode and call up some guru or outside authority figure for wisdom, visit your own inner sanctums for the God-Force or Source Energy is magic and on-call for you whenever you want it.
Treasure life and begin with celebrating each breath! We are all in this journey together.
Bob Fagan is a Management Consultant and Coach for executives, athletes, and general folk. Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.