Breathing in the Present Moment
by Sunny Schlenger
Few things bring you back to where you are as quickly as a health problem. As we all know but seldom remember, we tend to take our health for granted until we lose it for any length of time.
My epiphany took place during a winter much like this one, when I was living on the east coast and battling severe bronchitis. Although it hadn’t reached pneumonia-stage yet, it certainly grabbed my attention and made me appreciate the little things in life – like swallowing without pain, being able to hear out of both ears, going whole days without crippling headaches or coughing, and, most of all, unimpeded breathing.
Having to focus on your breath definitely takes you back to the essentials. The first day I got out of bed and came down to my office, I gingerly sat down at my desk, trying not to cough. I’d found that moving slowly enabled me to do little things without aggravating my cough center.
However, I was not expecting the other benefits that came along with my measured breathing. As I was sitting there, trying to update addresses and phone numbers in my contact list, I happened to look up and see snow gently falling on the trees extending over my patio. While hardly an unusual sight, for some reason it looked like it was happening in slow motion. The snowflakes seemed unusually soft and delicate, and the evergreens had never looked so green. I was mesmerized.
It took me awhile to realize that my perceptions were being altered by my slow movements and careful breathing. I was totally in the present moment, not pushing myself but genuinely, absolutely there.
I’ve always advocated the importance of being in the Now, but there’s a difference between doing it at a high energy level rather than a low one. Instead of just pausing to appreciate the moment, I was the moment.
It was an “Ah-ha!” of significant proportions. Could this be the universe’s way of telling me something? Normally I, like most people I know, operate at a fair rate of speed. If I’m not doing something, then I’m thinking about what I have to do. I’ve learned to stop and enjoy the little commas of beauty and humor and kindness during my day, but I’m still moving at a good clip when I do. What if I simply slowed down to the pace of my breathing and experienced things from that vantage point?
My first thought was, “How in the world can I go slower? There’s too much to accomplish!” but then I thought about my mental state after I had finished observing the snow on the patio. I was calm, relaxed – and crystal clear. Sharp. I moved through the afternoon like that, pacing myself but enjoying what I did. I knew that I was not capable of extending myself in any way, and my body cooperated by letting me know when it was time to stop.
Believe it or not, that was one of the most productive afternoons I have ever had. I was totally involved with what I had before me because I didn’t have the energy to be anywhere else.
Lesson? I probably don’t have to get sick to experience that. The reason I think this “slowed to the rhythm of breathing” approach might work is that I can see the results. No, I may not get as much done as I would if I raced around like a demented hamster, but two things would definitely happen instead. One, I wouldn’t be so exhausted at the end of the day, and two, the pay-off for my efforts would justify the slow-down. I’d have more quality work to show for my time and would be taking better care of myself.
What does it take to remember this? We’re challenged at every turn to entrain ourselves to the beat of our times. We’re encouraged to do more and move faster. It’s hard to swim against this tide, but if we realize that slowing down actually can work to our advantage, we may be encouraged to give it a try. Seeing snow fall, flake by flake can be a magical experience. And so is doing what we need to do in a way that enhances our sense of well-being.
Just stop, and breathe.