A few months ago, I shared my discovery of mindfulness practice which was teaching me to breathe. For a variety of reasons, recently I have not been able to make it to my weekly sessions which has surely taken a toll on me. I’ve been feeling like I am walking through life holding my breath for fear that if I actually exhale, the air I release will shrink my armor and leave me vulnerable to all of the dangers in the world. If I simply hold my breath and not let go, I can keep myself safe and secure. I can wrap myself up with my own arms and not let anyone get too close to penetrate my force field.
Despite all of the self-reflection and analysis I undergo, I am never sure why or how I get all bunched up inside myself. I am not sure why it is I forget to breathe. I am not sure why I become so afraid of the elements out in the world, worried that the potential pain is too great for me to bear. I never notice that I have shut the door, turned the lock and swallowed the key until I realize that I am standing motionless, breathless and locked inside a really dark room. Often, I get to that place because I feel exposed and unguarded and, while I have been bravely dipping my toe into the ocean of vulnerability, I find myself crawling away from the water’s edge to safely retreat to my locked room where I cannot get sucked into the undertow.
I am notorious for beating myself up when I feel like I am regressing. I convince myself that all of my hard work is in vain because I will ultimately end up back in the same place I started or worse. Except, when I get back there now, I will be tortured by the knowledge that I have seen the other side and feel angry and disappointed that I could not sustain myself. I try to remind myself that I am a mere mortal, capable of both great success and great failure. And that I can go on to live yet another day to and try to do better.
I was texting with a friend this morning and she was sharing some personal perspectives with me. Something she said resonated with me and made me think about my general approach to life. I want to be joyful. That is one of my most pressing agenda items every day. I want to feel joy and bring joy to others. Of course, this is not always possible, especially when I am in pain or those I care about are in pain. Sometimes you just need to work through that suffering with the faith that joy is somewhere around the corner. If you continue to have the intention that joy is your objective, you will always find it but sometimes it is a longer walk or is hidden in secret corners. You have to look harder and be more intentional. I have shared quite frequently that I have had a major focus this year on allowing myself to be more vulnerable. I know that some of the most extraordinary highs I have experienced of late have come from me being completely unguarded and exposed. The rawness that often feels so excruciating can also lead to connections and joy that are unparalleled. However, for me, the double-edged sword of this is that, because of my history and my own deep wounds, vulnerability also leaves me feeling weak and unglued and often forces me to wind myself up tighter, build cement walls to privately fall down into my rabbit hole and stop breathing. Sometimes the walls and wind-up are invisible to most around me and sometimes I have a neon sandwich board on my chest screaming “Back Off!” I usually notice as my feet start sliding out from under me when I am falling down the rocky cliff into the hole but rarely will I ever scream out asking for a hand, a rope to pull me up or even just someone to talk me through it as I slide down. There is some odd comfort in the loneliness that goes along with my isolation because it feels familiar. It is a place I recognize and I know how to behave in that space. I don’t have to think too hard while, ironically, my mind never stops racing. I can bottle up all the anger and pain that I have experienced throughout my life and quietly cast it out towards the world, assured I can trust no one, especially those closest to me who love me the most.
Inevitably, because I am fortunate – really, really fortunate – I am supported and my iceberg thaws, breaking down the walls and producing a ladder for me to climb out. As the water pools up around me from the warmth and love that envelopes me, I feel guilty and sad that I cannot just embrace the love in my life. I feel frustrated and disappointed that I cannot allow myself to just live and love and trust. I want to trust that those closest to me are sincere and love me despite myself. Or believe, as they do, that, perhaps, they see something so wonderful, so magical, so worthy of love and it does not matter if I understand it. I just need to trust it. I try. I really do. Sometimes it is just really, really hard – and I do not have language to explain why. It just is.
So, today I am trying to exhale and then remember to breathe in once more and exhale once more. Perhaps if I just follow my breath and focus on the simple act of breathing in and out, I can forget about worrying about whether or not I can trust or am worthy and just let it all be.