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Practices From the Inside Out: Taking a Deep Breath

Practices From the Inside Out: Taking a Deep Breath January 12, 2021

Practices From the Inside Out: Taking a Deep Breath

Taking a Deep Breath

This seems like an excellent opportunity for many of us to practice taking a deep breath.

We have struggled through challenging months trying to sustain ourselves long enough to survive. Some of us were reaching toward the end of the year, or a new beginning. We believed we had almost made it when we started to realize we were still not safe.

Some of us are having a hard time catching our breath. Many of us feel we spend our days running or pushing or working all the time. When we try to rest we find we are exhausted, unable to quiet our concerns and worries long enough to get to sleep.

Each of us has things which hold us back from taking a deep breath. We may be afraid or discouraged, tired or frustrated. Some of us have a hard time remembering what deep breaths feel like.

Month after month we work to protect ourselves and the people we love. Can we get things to work long enough just to get through the dark times? We push ourselves and hold our breath to see if we are going to make it.

Just when we think things might sort themselves out and we might be OK, our goals move further away. Some of us are already stretching as far as we can, trying to reach a safe place. If we can just go a little farther, just work a little harder, just be a little better, we might make it.

We need to admit to ourselves we need to stop and rest. Taking a deep breath will help us appreciate our situation more clearly.

Now is the time for us to practice sitting still, closing our eyes, taking a deep breath, and then another.

The Art of Taking a Deep Breath

We need to be reminded how to breathe deeply. We grow accustomed to the shallow air at the top of our lungs like living on a diet of processed junk food.

Some of us remind ourselves to breathe deeply by taking time to sit quietly and take a deep breath. We release all our thinking and feeling and talking to listen to ourselves breathing.

We give our attention to the depth of our breathing. Each breath reminds us we are giving our consent to the active presence of spiritual life within us. We breathe in and we breathe out. Spiritual life is within us and in the world around us like the air we breathe.

As we breathe more deeply we communicate to ourselves and the people around us. We breathe together and share the rhythm of taking a deep breath.

Some of us schedule time each day to sit still and breathe deeply. We remind ourselves of the significance of taking a deep breath.

Our spiritual practice of taking a deep breath changes how we live our everyday lives.

Breathing is the place where all our contemplative practices begin. How we breathe shapes the ways our bodies and minds and hearts work together. We breathe in spiritual life and health and breathe out what we do not need in our lives.

Our breathing reflects who we are and how we live. At times when we struggle, physically or intellectually, it becomes labored.

Breathing is a form of nonverbal communication. The people around us, consciously or unconsciously, pay attention to how we breathe. It can be a calming influence in a group of people or spark an increase in anxiety.

Taking a Deep Breath Like a Monk

Monks inspire me to remember, in the words of Benedict’s Rule, “Always, we begin again.

Each breath is a new beginning.  We breathe in and fill our lungs with opportunities to begin again. When we breathe out we expel what we do not need and give ourselves room to start fresh.

As long as we continue to breathe we can begin again.

Many monks pray breath prayers beyond words. They practice taking a deep breath evenly and smoothly, filling their lungs. Praying, working, reflection, and chanting help monks learn to breathe together well.

When I visit the hermitage where I am a lay oblate, we communicate with our breath. In stillness, without saying a word, we breathe together. Even when I am far away, taking a deep breath reminds me we share a monastic community. We pause, take a deep breath, and remember.

Sometimes we need to pause, taking a deep breath, then letting it out. We may need a few deep breaths. Caught between the past and the future, we need to pause and take a deep breath.

Catching our breath helps us remember to live in the present moment.

A Spiritual Practice of Taking a Deep Breath

Taking a deep breath is the first spiritual practice we develop.

Breathing is what we do when we do not do anything else, while we sleep and when we pay attention. Taking a deep breath is the practice which makes all our other practices possible.

Sacred writings describe how the breath of life awakens and inspires us. People tell us how deep insights take their breath away. Some people believe a scriptural notation for God’s name comes from the sound of breathing.

Breathing in and breathing out is the rhythm and pattern of our lives.

Taking a deep breath is a powerful working metaphor for spiritual life. We breathe in fresh air to fill our lungs, and pause to receive it. The oxygen we need for our hearts, minds, and bodies to continue working flows into us. Our sense of smell connects the world around us to the world within us.

We breathe out, providing nutrients to the plants around us. We release tensions and toxins, letting go of what is not healthy for us to hold in ourselves.

Breathing reflects the steps we take inward and back out into the world on our spiritual journeys each day.

How will our practice of taking a deep breath shape our lives today?

When will we give ourselves time to take a deep breath each day this week?

[Image by jackzen]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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