formation friday: breathe

kathyescobar formation friday, healing, spiritual formation 0 Comments

I originally wrote this post for SheLoves Magazine’s December edition, but I thought I’d share it here today  with a few small modifications as so many I know are trying to find their way through hard situations, whether it be politics in the USA that’s trying to wear all the persisters out as quickly as possible or those who are just exhausted and troubled by the life’s realities. Formation Fridays are a series of posts I’ve written over time centered on practice, on tangible ways to engage with what’s going on inside of us, on spiritual formation. Love and hope today as we breathe, just breathe. 

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Breathe in, Breathe Out

Breathe in God’s peace.”

“Breathe out your anxiety and fear.”

“Breathe in God’s peace.”

“Breathe out your anxiety and fear.”

Years ago when I was at Denver Seminary working on a certificate in spiritual direction, this was a small exercise my professor—an 80-year-old theologian who had a radical shift in his faith experience—shared with us. I will always remember this simple exercise and the tenderness in his voice. Simple. Profound. Healing.

And one of the hardest things to practice.

It also makes me think of the words of my yoga teacher (I’m the student who goes to class every six months or so, even though I need it daily): “If there’s only one thing you practice here, it should be breathing. Breathing changes more than we know.”

Breathing.

Take in what we need.

Let out what we don’t.

Over and over this pattern keeps us alive.

It happens involuntarily, and I’m glad for that.

But I also know what can happen inside my soul when I actually notice it. When I take time to slow down, notice my breath, breathe in, breathe out, still the churn, and get in touch with what’s going on inside of me instead of just going through the motions.

Why is it so hard for me?

Why do I always forget this basic skill?

Why do I not begin to practice it until I’ve already been completely jarred by some weird experience and know I need to do something to settle down, to get to a place of some kind of peace?

Why is it the last place I go for relief instead of the first?

I think it’s because I’m human. I have all kinds of other protective mechanisms that kick in first and I just … forget.

But this season (a season of great turmoil and angst and pain in the USA post-election), I really want to try to remember this simple practice in my day-to-day.

I need it if I’m going to make it through. This presidency and administration—the reality and what it means for not only our country but for so many people I know—has really been a deep pain for me. I am starting these four years tired but I am committed to playing whatever part I can in hope and change.

However, I am well aware I won’t last unless I keep doing what I can to take care of myself.

And a lot of that starts with breathing.

Yes, breathing.

That simple practice that I always forget.

“Breathe in God’s peace.”

“Breathe out anxiety and fear.”

My guess is that a lot of you might be like me and have things you need to breathe in and breathe right now.
“Breathe in God’s hope. Breathe out despair and darkness.”

“Breathe in courage. Breathe out fear and smallness.”

“Breathe in mercy. Breathe out unforgiveness and hostility.”

“Breathe in peace. Breathe out division and anger.”

“Breathe in vulnerability. Breathe out self-protection and defensiveness.”

“Breathe in energy and strength. Breathe out what wears us down.”

“Breathe in humility. Breathe out pride and self-righteousness.”

“Breathe in creativity. Breathe out the critic’s mean voice.” 

“Breathe in a sense of rest. Breathe out the frantic.”

And the one I always come back to:

“Breathe in God’s peace.” 

“Breathe out anxiety and fear.”

What do you need to breathe in? Exhale and let go of?

I know it’s not a 1-2-3, voila! All of the hard feelings are gone.

But this simple practice has more punch in it than we probably give credit to.

Last Christmas I created a short breathe in and breathe out mantra at The Refuge’s Blue Christmas gathering. It went like this:

“I will be rooted and grounded in peace.” (Breathe in.)

“No matter what this season brings.” (Breathe out.)

I tried to practice it throughout the holiday season, and I will tell you—it helped. Did I feel rooted and grounded in peace all month? Um, yeah, no. But did I have something to draw back on when I could feel the ground underneath me start to crumble? Yes. And it helped.

I did have to pause.

I did have to notice.

I did have to make space for it.

But there’s no question—it did help me make it through.

I have been working on what I might specifically need to breathe in and breathe out to honor the realities of this particular time with its own unique circumstances, and for now, this is my best shot:

Breathe in persistence and courage

Breathe out fear and dread. 

Friends-who-really-need-some-extra-peace-and-hope-and-balance-and-strength right now, may you find a way to breathe.

And may that breath somehow bring life, peace, hope, courage and strength in the midst of whatever you are going through.

That’s my hope for you, my hope for me, my hope for us.

“Breathe in God’s peace.”

“Breathe out anxiety and fear.”