Learning to Exhale: Breathing as an Act of Surrender

(Cross-posted at The Inward and Outward Journey.)

Confession: When it comes to Sabbath practices, I am so bad at this!

This was most recently evidenced by the fact that, for the umpteenth time, I stayed up too late last night.

It wasn’t the first time this year, or even this week. It was just the latest iteration of what for me has become an undesirable and frequent pattern: I get stressed out by day, then stay up late worrying by night. This, of course, becomes a vicious cycle: I’m stressed, so I stay up late, so I get less sleep, so I’m tired the next day, so I’m less efficient, so I feel more overwhelmed, which stresses me out, so I stay up late…

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now that the coffee has kicked in and I’ve had a little time to reflect, here’s part of what I think is going on for me: refusal to exhale.

Our scripture this week is very timely:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3)

On page 5 of Wayne Muller’s amazing A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough, Wayne notes that in the original Hebrew, the word for this rest can be read as “And God exhaled.” And Wayne goes on to pose the question: When do we exhale?

When I’m stressed out, when I feel like I’m holding a lot of stuff, I feel physically tight. The muscles in my neck and shoulders become tense. I feel emotionally tight as well. My mind races from one thing to another, as if I’d drop all the things if I spent too much time thinking about any one of them. And I feel spiritually tight – it’s hard work trying to maintain all this control, you know? Who has time for spiritual renewal when I’ve got so many things to worry about?? I hardly have time to breathe!

…And that’s what I mean by refusal to exhale: physically, emotionally, and spiritually refusing to breathe…

or open

or widen

or relinquish

or release.

I gain something out of refusing to exhale: the illusion that I ultimately have control over all these things I’m worrying about. But the utterly terrifying – and liberating – truth is, I actually don’t have control over the things that give me the most stress. And so for me, stress management isn’t about somehow seizing more control, but rather the opposite: letting go of my desire to control those things. In spiritual language, this is the discipline of surrender.

A curious thing happens when we breathe deeply: our bodies relax. Our heart rates slow down. Our thoughts become clearer. We become more attentive to the things around us. We gain the ability to sustain our focus on one thing at a time. Viewed in this light, breathing itself is an embodied act of surrender: Inhale: allow the oxygen into my body, and hold it there… Exhale: …then surrender it back out.

In the coming days, as we explore the practices of physical, emotional, and spiritual Sabbath together, let’s please be sure to take time to breathe… and relax… and let go of that which we cannot control. Let’s try to do this not only in our designated “Sabbath times,” but when the stress is at its highest points. I’ll keep you posted about how that works out on my end…

Breathe with me?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: