What does breathing mean to you?
Is breathing to you merely a physical process of the body? To draw in air into and expel it from the lungs, take in oxygen, give out carbon dioxide through natural processes, inhale and exhale freely, or rest from exertion.
Is it a mental construct? To live, pause and rest mentally before continuing, to become perceptible: express or give something life.
Is it spiritual? To feel free of restraint, experience the Universe, feed the soul, or send out intent.
Breathing for me is now all of the above. However, this has not always been the case. In the beginning, breathing was not a thing to be given much thought. It was taken for granted. It was just something that happened. It was not until someone pointed out that I was not breathing that breathing came into my consciousness. Well, that and seasonal allergies and that one particular incident when a piece of ice I was chewing got stuck in my throat and wasn’t melting as fast as my body needs it to breathe. That was scary! Anyway.
“You are holding your breath.” “You’re not breathing! You have to breathe, or you are going to pass out! You can’t run if you don’t breathe!” he yelled at me while we were running on ‘The Hill’ at Fort Bliss, Texas. ‘He’ was my then-boyfriend, soon to be the first husband and eventually to be my first ex-husband too. “Come on! Let’s breathe together, so you learn how. You are kind of cute. It would help if you didn’t fall over dead!” he continued.
That was all it took, and I was in love! That and he was handsome and amusing. I like good looking and funny. I think funny can make a person good-looking regardless of how they physically look. Anyway.
There is a difference between breathing to exist and breathing to thrive. Up until this moment of running on The Hill, I had breathed merely to exist. My breathing being simply my body’s natural reflex to survive. That was all.
I did not know until then that breathing could be done in various ways to accomplish a variety of different tasks and survive in so many different situations and environments. I am sure I had breathed differently at other times, but I was not aware of my breathing up to that exact moment.
When we are sleeping, we breathe differently from when we are awake. Breathing is different when running through the woods during a good game of capture the flag and even more different during a game of hide-and-go-seek. Of course, during hiding-and-go-seek, there are moments of not breathing too. For instance, when lying flat against a shed roof on a moonless night as ‘it’ walked directly below. This could also be one of the times the hider may have peed her pants because she would rather do that than be ‘caught’ and subsequently be ‘it’ than make a run for the house. Maybe.
We breathe differently when we are playing musical instruments and sports as well. It was more likely the lack of breathing that caused me to be horrible at both. I did give them both a try. No one can ever criticize my tenacity at giving things a go.
I gave playing the clarinet try, right up until the band director informed my mother that I might want to give up on the clarinet and maybe try a sport. In retrospect, I learned two things when this happened. Two unfortunate things would stay with me for a long time until I learned differently. One, giving up is an option, and two, breathing doesn’t matter.
Not to be a sideliner. I gave sports a go. I signed up for the track. Not the most practical place for one who does not know how to breathe, but I didn’t realize that was the problem then. So, run, I did. Well, that’s what I did right up until I couldn’t because I couldn’t breathe because I wasn’t breathing for that particular situation. Two memories have stayed with me since my running days.
The first is of one of the other runners, a natural runner, coming up alongside me and saying, “Jenny, lower your arms; it will help.” The other is of a race at another school.
I was signed up for the one-mile race. I was so excited and nervous. I loved being part of the team. I loved a challenge, and I loved competition. I was anxious because I knew I didn’t know how to be good at any of them. But gosh darn it, I was going to put myself out there and hope for the best.
The race began, and off we went. The first lap not horrible. The second lap, falling behind. The third lap not so good. I could not breathe. I had to stop. Why not. It is okay to give up. That day was the end of my running career. It was stopped dead in its tracks. I wasn’t breathing for that particular situation, and my lack of breathing for the situation had already led to a pattern of giving up.
Tenacity, however, prevailed, and good fortune brought the induction of the Madison High School Swim Team. Now, I thought to myself, swimming is something I could do! I had been swimming since before I could even remember not swimming. I would swim in a mud puddle if it were deep enough. I spent days upon days at the Outdoor Family YMCA, summer after summer, and winters at the Indoor YMCA. I had had swimming lessons since well forever. I joined the team.
Swimming was my thing. Full disclosure, just because I was thrilled to be in the pool, the reality is that I was not the best swimmer on the team. I was not the slowest but certainly not the best. On our swim team, there was the fast team and the slow team. I was on the slow team but occasionally swam on the fast team if they required an extra body.
Swimming was the one thing I did not give up on and was the one thing I could do because, in the water, one has only two choices, breathe or die. I even earned just enough points to be given a varsity letter for my jacket. Then I got bronchitis and walking pneumonia, and that was the end of my professional swimming career. It was then that I learned another unfortunate lesson. When you quit, quit while you’re ahead.
Years and years later, here we are. I have finally learned how to breathe and can do so effectively to thrive in life. It is important to pause here for a moment and explore thriving.
When I say thrive, I am referring the Webster’s Dictionary’s third example of the word, which states, “…to progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances.” In my case, the circumstance is my breathing or lack thereof, and the goal is to breathe to make it through a challenging situation or experience.
In my mind, we don’t need to be the best or have the best to thrive. We thrive when we make it through challenging situations and experiences and learn how to be better versions of ourselves because we have the living skills.
Upon reflection of my life thus far, I was a very angry person. I could easily believe that subconsciously the lack of anyone taking the time to teach me how to breathe was one of the things in my early years that led to the feelings of unworthiness I carried around with me for years like a lead-filled suitcase. Maybe I was not worthy of anyone taking the time to help me thrive.
I could continue to be angry. I could continue to feel sorry for myself. I could continue to use my unworthiness to give up in some situations and quit while I am ahead in others. I could use these feelings to not grow as a person to a point where I realize that it is ultimately up to me to take the initiative to thrive on my own.
Or, I could choose to give other people the same break I hope they give me and recognize that, more than likely, they were just doing the best they could with what they knew.
I could choose to recognize that it doesn’t matter the source of feelings/beliefs of any sort, whether negative or positive. What matters is what we do with them when they come to light and breathe my way through the situation or experience.
I chose to breathe.
What about you?
Where to go from here?