Last year, for the first 10 days of February, I was in silence at a Buddhist meditation retreat in Thailand. I sat, I watched, I learned and I listened. But above all else, I caught my breath.
Today, I caught it again.
It seems such a simple thing to do - this breathing thing. And in fact, it is simple but it is not easy. Sometimes, at the end of the day, after dinnertime and bath time and story time, I sit down and realize that perhaps I hadn't breathed all day. Really breathed - like those deep breaths that plummet you back into the moment, back into the present instead of the land of anticipation, preparing and planning. And I know that if I allowed myself a few seconds several times a day to let my breath bring me back to the present moment that I would feel less anxious about the grown-up dinner that is not ready or the decision I have to make about this season's flu shot.
So today, I allowed myself. In fact, I allowed myself 6 hours of it at the Mindful Motherhood daylong at San Francisco Zen Center. There were seasoned moms and new moms and moms-in-waiting, all hoping for that nugget of truth or that "ha-ha" moment that might make their 3 year old's tantrum more tolerable or their 3 month old's nighttime feeding precious again. But in the end, there was no nugget of truth, just the breath that we all had with us from the start.
I did leave with a powerful insight into the physical contraction that follows after loosing one's breath. It is a gnarling of the joints,a stiffening of the muscles, a hardening of the shoulders, a clenching of the jaw, a grinding of the teeth and worst of all a tightening of the heart. This place of contraction, in which I am holding my breath and living in constant anticipation of the laundry that needs to be washed, the diapers that need to be purchased or meltdowns that will inevitably happen, leaves me stiff and inflexible - both physically and mentally. So today, one breath at a time, I softened.
And everything and nothing has changed.