Tag: Breathing

18Jan

Grace as: Winter’s Skin

The air sinks its teeth into my cheeks the moment I step outside. Clouds are skating across a slick white sky, and the mud still smells faintly of snow. I don’t want to be out of doors. To be honest, I barely want to be out of bed. Some ancestral instinct in me beats to the tune of hibernating bears, and I would sleep the winter away if I weren’t wrapped in skin instead of fur, if these lungs didn’t ache to be filled to capacity.

I’m only human though, and that’s why I find myself out in the live of winter, my feet shivering in a pair of RealFlexes. I need to remember how to breathe.

In the past, I’ve pounded my feet against the trail visualizing inches of my waistline trampled underneath. Other times, I’ve trained for shock factor, imagining how those who really know me would react if I could complete a 5K. (For reference.) I’ve chased endorphins and given up when life has crowded too close. I’ve run to blow off steam and run to spite myself and run to prove something and run to change everything, and only today am I running simply to feel alive.

Winter skin

There is no agenda except for this, the ice-tipped air driving dust out of my bronchioles and startling my circulatory system awake. My face tingles in its own personal sleet storm and then, as my feet find their rhythm and my heart shakes away the last vestiges of hibernation, begins to warm. I remember what I’ve learned about myself over the months on this very trail—how my natural reaction to exercise is panic, how I have to unclench my fingers one at a time and coax my lungs into exhaling with promise of unlimited refills. I remember how to let it all go every other step and trust that there will be enough for the one after.

I run until my lungs and my heart and my winter-flamed skin understand this as grace.

“and she’s glowing with her light
she’s glowing with her light
embracing her strength with her final bite
winter is winter is winter is
here.”

 ~~~

{I’ve always had trouble comprehending the word “grace” as it’s used by religion or defined by Webster, but something in me knows it’s integral to who I am and who I’m becoming. In this Grace as: series, I’m attempting to track it into the wild and record my peripheral glances of it, my brushes with the divine. Come along with me? You can follow along via Twitter, RSS, or my piping hot new Facebook page… and as always, I love hearing your thoughts in the comment section!}

Previously:

Grace as: Glitter in the Floorboards

Grace as: Three-Week Smiles

Grace as: Permission to Celebrate

Grace as: Role Call

7Nov

Cinnamon Steam

Right now:

Open windows

Pumpkin spice latte

Diamond-cut air

Fall daisies

~~~

Every window in the house wide open to the diamond-cut morning air.

Pumpkin spice latte with cinnamon steam.

Tendrils of wood smoke and the rustle of olive nets, hallmarks of November in Umbria.

The new Mumford & Sons—soul-shiveringly good.

Daisies, orange and fuchsia.

Facebook closed.

~~~

What is your “right now?”

26Oct

Coffee-Stained

Friends? Meet my blog’s namesake:

An ode to espresso

Espresso is darker than you might think underneath that caramel cloud, bold, bitter-rich, and supremely confident. If you add as much sugar as I do, it goes down like a burnt-umber glaze, and you could feel its intensity on your tongue for days if you were willing to forego toothpaste. Sipping it roasts your tongue and sends after-shocks down your throat, a bolt of liquid electricity… and then your mind begins to unfurl.

I learned this over Sunday dinners with friends our first year here in Italy. After the vermouth-soaked olives and the melting mountains of pasta and the veal and the salad and the pears and the tiramisu, after the children bounded away from the table and the chatter slowed to a contented lull, after the dishes were cleared and there was nothing left to do but relax, the tiny porcelain cups would come out. The espresso machine would croon its guttural love notes, the sugar bowl would give up its bouquet of silver teaspoons, and we would sip the last few steps to total tranquility.

Five years later, I can’t tell you whether or not I like the taste of espresso… but it’s not the taste that hangs my afternoons on this small pleasure. It’s the liturgy of contentment. It’s the infusion of courage and caffeine, the slow rhythm reset, and finally, the clarity. 

~~~

How do you take your coffee? And what significance does it hold for you?

2May

Recovery Mode

May 1st is Labor Day here in Italy, and in order to fully celebrate its freedom to work, the nation exercised its freedom to take off from work starting last Thursday evening. Folks, we’re talking five full days of weekend. Five! Traditionally, one of my favorite things about any given weekend is the opportunity it affords me to catch up on unfinished projects, but this time, my body took a calculating look at the swath of free time ahead, mumbled “It’s about time,” and punched out. I don’t know how many hours I slept over the last few days, but they never seemed like quite enough. While the rest of the country picnicked, I passed out. They shopped, I snoozed. They went camping, I went comatose. You get the idea. At any rate, this morning, its gray light and calendar flip equally disorienting, is probably as good a time as any to accept that I’m in recovery mode.

To fully understand the issue that’s had me reeling lately, you’d have to peek among the pages of my childhood journals. The back story is all there, even if I couldn’t articulate it at the time. You see, one of the most basic tenets of my family’s fundamentalist lifestyle was that children were inferior. Outwardly, our movement held up Bible verses labeling children as a gift, but more quietly and much more pervasively, it taught that children were little sin-bred decepticons with no intrinsic worth until they were broken in. A child’s mind was a thing to be shaped, not acknowledged. Growing up as a child of that movement, I had little right to my own opinions, and if my perspective ever differed from an adult’s, I was wrong, automatically and without question.

There was a personal element to it as well. Because I was the oldest child in our family and the one whose independent streak clashed most visibly against our movement’s ideals, I needed to be put down more decisively than most. Whereas other children in our lifestyle had at least the hierarchy of age in their favor, my words could be invalidated by those of younger siblings. I can vividly remember being forbidden to tell my side of a story because it wouldn’t count anyway. I was guilty until proven innocent, and my proof was often disqualified unheard.

It’s lingered with me long, that poisoned whisper from my past: Your opinions do not matter. You have nothing worth saying. No one wants to hear what you think. No one will believe you anyway. Safely ensconced in adulthood, I see the lie for what it is, and I win another victory against it every day that I post an entry here or submit an article or talk honestly with a friend. However, some hurts are too powerful to simply keel over and die; instead, they lie dormant until a specific trigger jolts them back to life.

That trigger came a couple of weeks ago.

I had been asked for my help in a situation that quickly turned more complicated than anyone had expected. As weeks went by, the situation became increasingly unmanageable, and I finally went to the party that had initially asked for my help to ask them for help. Their response came hurtling out of left field. Where I’d anticipated a brainstorming session, I was met by a flurry of emotional outbursts and unfounded accusations that continued for an hour unabated. The only reason I stayed, tears welling with each insult, was that I hoped the situation could be salvaged once the other party calmed down enough to listen to me. Then the trigger—They refused to hear my side of the story. They let me know they wouldn’t believe me, that my words were automatically invalid to them. The conversation was closed.

Your opinions do not matter. You have nothing worth saying. No one wants to hear what you think. No one will believe you anyway.

My panic attack was already gaining momentum by the time we said goodbye. An old current of pain jolted alive and coursed through my body like fire and ice, unbearably strong. The fresh pain of the other party’s words and the stress of the already-unmanageable situation crushed down on my head and lungs, and all oxygen vanished from the room at once. I don’t know how long it lasted before my sweet husband was able to calm my heart rate and restore feeling to my limbs; minutes turn into eternities when you can’t breathe, and I know we came close to an ER trip. I could no sooner control the panic than I could fly, but even in the worst of it, I understood how absurd it was to be having such an intense physical reaction to the evening’s conversation. As an adult, with both logic and a clear conscience on my side, I could have fought for myself or, even more easily, stepped away. No one had forced me to stay on the line, much less take the hurtful concepts to heart. Beyond that, I knew better than to believe the insidious lies used to control me as a child, so how could I be falling apart over them? How could I have let a few misguided words yank my stability out from under me?

I guess the truth of it is that I’m not fearless, nor am I immune. Some small part of my heart is willing to believe that the voices from my past are the right ones in a world of attractive deception and that no matter what sort of façade I build for myself, others will still be able to sense my worthlessness. This small part of my heart had found confirmation in the unkind things said to me in that trigger-quick conversation, and so even once my breath returned, I kept my mouth shut and my feelings on ice for the better part of a week. I felt like my voice had been stolen and only a ghost of a woman remained.

The feeling of bereavement didn’t last, of course, and as my confidence began to trickle back, I started drafting a letter that I hoped would bring some resolution. However, each version I wrote struck me as too confrontational, so I kept gentling it down until I had written a full letter of apology. From me. To the people who had hurt me. For the sole purpose of convincing them to have a better opinion of me in the future. I think I was hoping the apology would count toward me as turn-the-other-cheek karma, a sort of magic spell for reconciliation and happiness and divine brownie points all around, but reading back over those unctuous paragraphs in my own handwriting was like catching myself with tongue out, inches from a dirty boot. Sure, someone else may have triggered my emotional beast, but here I was keeping it alive, perpetuating the lies. Me.

Dear Lord. Was I still so willing to believe myself a cosmic mistake? Was I really so eager to discredit all the love and encouragement shown to me throughout the years in favor of the soul-killing ideologies I thought I’d escaped?

I didn’t send the letter. As much as I wanted to make peace with the situation, I recognized that I wasn’t doing anyone a favor by patronizing a lie, and I made myself promise that I would respond to my accusers face to face once the time was right, once my feet were planted firmly enough in grace to lavish it on all of us. And so I wait in recovery mode. This is such a passive process that the insistent, sleep-for-five-days bout of exhaustion caught me off guard, but I guess it’s not the easiest thing in the world to let go of an identity-lie.

This process has a lot in common with running, actually. I’ve started up again, and for as slowly as I move and as embarrassingly little endurance as I have, I’m proud of my breathing. It’s been my one athletic success so far, learning to fill my lungs to capacity and then release it all, step after step. My natural inclination is to hold myself in and conserve breath under an airtight diaphragm, but as I run taut against the wind and feel increasingly convinced I’m dying, panic clamps down on my lungs like a desperate hoarder and I finish the workout doubled over. Attractive, let me tell you.

I’m learning about letting go, though, about trusting that each new breath will be waiting within reach and that I’ll have the energy for each new step as it comes. Relaxing into the process doesn’t come naturally to me, so I’m doing the clumsy beginner routine right now both in running and in living—inhale and exhale, acknowledge and release, listen and move on, grace and more grace. The rhythm doesn’t come easily yet, but time is kind, and at least I can rest assured that if my tongue sticks out these days, it’s only in concentration.

10Apr

Unplugged

We were supposed to have Wi-Fi. It was one of the two features I insisted on for last week’s vacation rental. Number one was a parking spot—every car deserves at least a fighting chance of surviving Naples intact—and number two was connection with the outside world. I know it’s healthy to unplug every once in a while, but I’ve learned a few things about myself and isolation over the years, and… well, let me just turn you over to the post I wrote last Monday. In light of the following seven Wi-Fi-less days, I’m titling it Irony.

~~~

Monday, April 02, 2012

Late-afternoon sunbeams sprawl through the open doorway and across my toes, painted a sugared lavender in honor of these first barefoot days. I’m starting to think, however, that I should have gone with orange. It’s everywhere in this Neapolitan villa—tangerine curtains, sunburst floors, goldfish prints swimming across mango walls—and I wish I were unabashed enough to do the same in our own home. This color, it’s the only invitation I need to waltz wholemindedly into Easter break.

Orange in Naples

In the absence of orange Neapolitan villas, I’m notoriously bad at vacation. This will come as no surprise to any of you, but it’s easier for me to leave my toothpaste than my productivity complex back at home. Even my usual blogging hiatus turns into a form of obligation, a must carpe every damn diem teethgrit no matter how far behind my self-awareness starts to lag. So this, lounging in tandem with the sunlight and letting my fingers stretch long on the keys, is my highest form of rebellion for the week.

Our vacation rental is nestled in a maze of farm roads on the slopes of Vesuvius, and from the living room sofa, I can see past the tips of lightly fuzzing peach trees and across the rooftops of Naples to where ships weave silver tracks in the bay. We’re high above clamor and hurry, time trilled away by birds flitting through a bower of wisteria blossoms just off the terrace. I never thought I could feel so completely relaxed in a city whose streets jolt the afterlife in and out of focus, but here I am. Purring.

 Room with a view

~~~

Oh yes, there is more to come. See you tomorrow, same time, same place?

P.S. – It’s crazy good to be back.

28Mar

Rehabilitation

This is when I know it’s an addiction—when I haven’t read a bedtime story to my girls in a week, when a friend leaves a voice mail after an email after a text message and then waylays my husband to make sure I’m okay, when I start thinking up next week’s grocery list on a Monday and run instead of walk to find a pen. My drug is accomplishment. It always has been, from the impossible checklists of my childhood to the precarious tower of college jobs, and like any chemical-inflamed dependence, it hollows out my living appetite.

Some wild-eyed part of my brain insists that when I can no longer find a single loose end to wrap up, not a single other must or should, my craving for accomplishment will finally be satisfied. However, I’ve watched through the keyhole as my own mind invents responsibilities, and I know the truth—that I crave the hunger more than I crave its end.

It’s a sobering realization that I can’t just… stop. Not without some iron-clad justification—six hours until sunrise, a waiting room lull—and even then, I only grant a temporary concession. I wake up in the morning pre-tired. I have woken up nearly every morning of my life this way.

No need to tell me that the valuable moments of life are the slow-cooked ones, the savoring of time with loved ones, the meditation melting on my tongue. I have known transcendence, but never in the scurry. It’s only when I’m still that the important unblurs. This blog owes its existence to my need for reflection and refocus, but sometimes, weeks like the last one take over and I lose sight of soul-care in my scramble to do more, always more, just one thing more and maybe it will finally feel like enough. I medicate the endless gnawing with my dust cloth.

Right now, sitting here honestly with you brings on the shaking effort of withdrawal. I can see every spill on the kitchen floor, every unfiled paper on my desk, and every shaded block on the calendar all at once, and they wage a trembling tug-of-war against gravity. My coffee is just strong enough to keep me in my seat as I fight myself on two opposing fronts. It’s every kind of unsettling.

But oh, I can feel it’s good. Deliberately refusing my compulsion to hurry and accomplish, choosing instead to stop and write and reorient, pushing back my panic at the ticking of the clock, ducking outside for a tryst with the cherry blossoms… this is my rehabilitation. It’s not easy, but it’s good, and I’m powering through the withdrawal this morning because being here does what grasping for accomplishment never can: It fills.

9Mar

Pirates and Police

Joining Soule Mama today for “{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.”

(Oh, but I want to add words. Badly. I’m considering this an exercise in restraint.)

~~~

 Police and pirates

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