Advent Journal: Breath

This chapter on breath resonates on multiple levels.

In just a few weeks, one of my favorite people in our community will deliver a Sunday morning message on ruachthe breath of life, of God. I’ve read a preview copy and it’s inspiring and encouraging.

I’m learning to breath more intentionally; in this time of COVID, moments of meditation have been helpful. Silence, stillness, focus; Erickson says,

Focusing on the movement of breath in and out of your body anchors you to the present moment and slowly calms down that distracted mind.

Scott Erickson, ‘Honest Advent’

I have found this to be true; I’ve thought about breathing a lot in recent months. I took up running, and realized that the mental block I’d always had about pushing myself too far was simply a lack of awareness about my body. When I started breathing hard, I’d feel fear creep in: Fear that I’d push too hard and my body would rebel. I was afraid I’d keel over in the middle of the woods, dead from a heart attack.

I’m not sure where or when that particular fear began reared its head, but it certainly limited me. I never felt like I “could” run, because once I started to feel the exertion, fear overtook everything – and I’d give up.

The remedy?

I got an Apple watch and started to monitor my heart rate – and that’s all it took. When I had legitimate proof in front of me that there was a difference between simply feeling the impact of my body working and the mental anxiety that I would over-work, I realized what I was capable of.

And I kept running.

And breathing; I started to measure and control and pay attention to the rate of my breathing, the impact of air as it hit my lungs. I was intentional about my intake of air.

I find it easier to focus on breathing when I’m outside, moving. I’m learning more about stillness and meditation and “calming the distracted mind” – but it’s hard. Distraction is a powerful thing. But focus can tame distraction, and make space for the body and the Spirit to come to a centering place.

When my children were small, there was very little centering or stillness – but I still remember those middle-of-the-night moments of breast-feeding. I think, for me, one of the most precious parts of nursing a baby was the bond it created. It was the thing that I did – and that only I could do – for this child, and that knowledge helped me figure out how to be a mom. I had no idea what I was doing, but at 2AM with a baby at my breast, there was a moment of stillness when all was well. It’s a blur now – but I recall some clarity about that time of focus.

One of the most amazing experiences is holding a sleeping baby on your chest. Sitting, doing nothing other than feeling their little lungs move in and out…in and out…partaking in the same ruach rhythm as you do.

Scott Erickson, ‘Honest Advent’

With a grandchild now, I have a new and powerful appreciation for those moments of shared ruach. They are thousands of miles away now, but I can remember her tiny torso wrapped around my own, the complete and utter relaxation as she gave way to sleep, and the relentless rhythm of life as she breathed. It was just a few weeks ago, but it seems like a lifetime.

In fact, it is; a lifetime of breath, of shared stillness, of the calm that is available to all of us. Thank God for the gift of finding it so quickly with a baby in my arms.

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