I have the unwelcome opportunity, as you probably do, to ponder this often. One day in particular, I woke up with a clear plan for my day. I drove to my yoga studio. After parking my car, I realized I had forgotten my yoga mat and had a moment of irritation that I would have to pay for a loaner mat because I had not been mindful enough to bring mine. As I locked the car door, a woman said: “Do you know you have a flat tire?”
“I didn’t. Thank you.”
I did not feel grateful. With a big sigh, I unlocked the door and sat back down. I looked up the weird warning that had started flashing that morning and sure enough, it meant a problem with tire pressure. I felt myself sinking into the frustration of missing my class and now having to go to the rental agency to get another car. Closing my eyes to re-center, I recalled an email I had received the day before from a friend asking for prayers for a mother whose daughter had been missing for five days. Fortunately, she followed up with an email a few hours later saying the daughter was found and safe.
Pulling out my phone, I called my VISA, who transferred me to their emergency road service number. Another moment of annoyance rose when they said there was a $60 charge to change the tire. I debated changing the tire myself, but quickly talked myself into the benefit of getting assistance. An edge of irritation invaded my voice as I answered the woman’s questions. Do any of you ever do that to customer service people? You know it is not their fault but they are the ones saying what you don’t want to hear. I pulled away from that edge in my voice until it was lower and quieter, reminding myself I was safe and didn’t have a daughter that was missing.
The tow man arrived, kneeled down, and inspected the flat tire. “That is a really big nail!” he said, pointing to the large head in the tire. He raised the car and used his high powered tool to unscrew the lug nuts. “These are on really tight.” I cracked a small smile, glad I called him, imagining myself trying to take them off with a small hand tool, imagining the curses that would have started to spew out of my mouth.
After he finished screwing on the last lug nut, I started the car and turned out of the parking lot. Hot tears spilled down my cheeks and I started sinking underwater again. I wailed: “I am suffering, I am suffering, I am suffering.” A laugh bubbled up and interrupted my tragic lament. That laugh was like someone reaching down and pulling me out of the water. That laugh brought breath to my lungs that spread to my heart and along my limbs until my toes tingled.
What Helps Me
As I drove across the Richmond bridge in the slow lane with my donut tire, I looked out at the great expanse of the bay and asked myself: “What helps me find my breath?” What helps me when I sink into a place where I forget beauty, trust, and gratitude?
First and foremost, breathing deeply. I often hold my breath when I am sinking, and that cuts off oxygen to my brain. Laughter is another way to breathe deeply, as is dancing to a song rich with rhythm and beat. Perspective is another hand that pulls me out – like thinking about that mother who did not know where her daughter was for five days. I did not attend the prayer circle for the mother because I was having dinner with my precious, safe daughter. Perspective reminds me I am not the only person feeling minor annoyance or deep despair. Yoga is another hand that pulls me up and gives me breath, which is why I was sad to miss my class. I pondered more ways I find my breath as I transitioned onto the 80 freeway. I had gotten up that morning and set my timer for 15 minutes to meditate, counting my in-breath and out-breath to 10. Whenever I noticed I was on number 34, I returned to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
As I exited on Gilman Avenue and passed the soccer fields, I thought of my twins, now 21 and embarking on their own journeys. They are finding the hands in life that will pull them up when they go underwater, stop breathing, and forget their resiliency.
On this day my faithful, strong hands, born of constant discipline, pulled me up from a minor drama. Sometimes, when someone we love goes away or executive decrees slap down justice unrelentingly, we really do feel like we are drowning, like we cannot breathe. Many people in my circle are reeling day to day, as if there is a boot on their necks, pushing their precious faces under water. Many I don’t know have had their faces pushed under water for decades, for centuries, for many lifetimes.
So again, I ask you: How do you find your breath?
Finding your breath means looking unflinchingly at the larger picture and also being one with every single detail that grounds us. To make a good cup of tea, I have to be that tea, and the cup. I have to be the hot water. Sometimes I am the honey and the spoon and the coconut milk.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a buddhist teacher, said it well: If you can hold the pain of the world and never forget the vastness of the great eastern sun, then you can make a proper cup of tea. #coaching #breath #greateasternsun