Saturday, December 31, 2016

Riff on breath

Kris wrote a blog post yesterday about celebrating life's breathtaking moments and the irony that ALS literally takes your breath away.

It's a beautiful post. Go read it, if you haven't already. You'll come away treasuring life and breath more deeply. And you'll have a theme word for today, for the New Year celebration, and for daily living.

I think about breath a lot. It's the thing I need to do better as a singer. It's also that thing you're supposed to return to, in meditation or yoga or moments of panic and confusion. Like many people I hold my breath when I'm stressed, muscles too tight to allow the next breath to enter easily, naturally, fighting nature's mechanism for renewing my will and energizing my heart.

Blessedly, just thinking about it slows and deepens my breath. The hot coffee slipping past my lungs has warmed them, loosening the allergy-related congestion. Could thoughtful breathing, and caffeine,  lift the gloom of this last day of 2016?

Social media posts have been full of "so glad to say goodbye to this awful year." Woo-hoo-- except,  of course, tomorrow is continuous with today. There's no hitting the reset button at midnight, no clean slate, no "Clear history" choice on the drop-down menu. Tomorrow, or Monday, or Tuesday, we will pick up right where 2016 left us, facing the same problems, the same conundrums, the same mess. I've read two pressing-forward, we-can-do-this op-ed/think pieces this morning, and while I do have neurons that resonate with this kind of thinking, so many of life's inevitabilities don't yield to optimism.

Back to the breath—and my own breathtaking moments (sensible Kris--for thirty years he's been my roadmap to feeling more cheerful!). Here are some I can think of this morning:

  • The lakeshore when the water, the rocks and the broad horizon are as a big as God — who is as close as the breeze in the cedars and the energy in the waves. 
  • Smiles on the faces of my children, grown, but to me, still the delightful little ones of Christmas seasons past. 
  • Music-making: the magical moments when it all falls into place (sometimes in rehearsal rather than performance). 
  • ewborn lambs at the Sheep and Wool Show, and gorgeous hand-dyed colors in merino and blue-faced Leicester, alpaca and silk. 
  • Reading "When Breath Becomes Air" on a summer day in my backyard (many layers of breath-taking in that one). 
  • Images that finally appear clear on the page if you take enough words away. 
  • Strong coffee that sometimes tastes even better than I remember it, even though I drink it every day.
  • Long, fast walks. 
  • All those many things Kris listed: newborns, kisses, milestones, loved ones.

There were breathtaking images in 2016 that weren't so good: photos from around the world of people in need, dead, dying, oppressed, bombed, injured, desperate, grieving. Video of angry people, of resentment, racial hatred, misogyny, blinding arrogance, willful ignorance. Challenges to those  evils often fell short.

Breath is what we hold in common: animals breathe, plants breathe, lakes and oceans fold the moving air into the tumbling waves. We gasp for breath as we're born and again when we die. We breathe together when we sing. We quiet our breath as we pray.

Keep breathing in the year ahead!

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