All through my recovery I have relied on deep breathing practices to keep me calm and focused and grounded in the moment.
My breath is like a well. As I inhale deeply, I lower the bucket down to the bottom. Way down deep where things like intention, gratitude, acceptance and contentment are floating around. With a pause I scoop up a tiny bit, and I lift it up on my exhale. I slowly let it spill out of my nose. Then I lower the bucket down again on an inhale.
As the good stuff from deep down makes its way to the surface, I am reassured: This moment is all right, this moment is okay. Then moment becomes moments, day becomes days, week becomes weeks…
And so it was, nine weeks after my double mastectomy. I was out in the woods with my kids on my first breast-less hike. It was a moderate 3 mile loop, and it challenged both my legs and my lungs. But I leaned in, and when we got back to the car I felt accomplished. I felt recharged. Energized.
A few days later I was on my mat in a park with 50 other yogis flowing, under a double rainbow. I found myself moving through all of the poses with only minor modifications. I leaned in, and when the class was over I felt uplifted. Inspired.
Two days later I was standing in front of a studio leading a group of yogis. I was back to teaching. With nervous excitement, I leaned in. They were flowing and breathing and I was soaking up their energy like a sponge. As I guided them through a 40 minute meditation I was mindful of every amazing moment.
When it was over I felt like I was floating. Buzzing. Electric.
I had come such a long way on the road to recovery; the challenging loop that would lead me back to the new normal. I was leaning in.
Two days later I was awoken by a stabbing pain in my gut. I was rushed to the hospital, and had emergency gall bladder surgery.
I felt like I had been sideswiped. Knocked for a loop.
I was just feeling recovered, and now I had to start recovering all over. After the surgery when I came home I had referred pain in my shoulders. Horrible, awful, excruciating pain. Worse than the pain that sent me to the hospital.
I tried to take deep breaths, but deep breathing made the pain worse. Each inhale was like a dagger in the chest.
What do you do when the thing that usually grounds you becomes painful?
How do you stay present in the moment when the present moment sucks?
In order to avoid the pain, I had to take very shallow breaths. Days of shallow breathing can lead me right down the path to old behaviors, anxieties, and panic attacks.
I wanted to crawl out of my skin, run away from my body. There was no escape and no relief. So, I lost my mind a little. I cursed at my kids. I slammed the door. When my mom surprise visited me with homemade cookies, and asked me how I was feeling I yelled ‘I feel like shit!’
As I stormed away in search of solitude in my crowded noisy house, I realized that I was resisting. I was fighting against the moment. Fighting panic only leads to more panic. Fighting frustration only leads to more frustration.
I couldn’t dip down into the well. I had to find another way. So I decided to lean in. I leaned in to the shitty moment.
I let the misery and discomfort wash over me. I sobbed uncontrollably and I felt sorry for myself. I wallowed in it. And there, in the shallows, I found the compassion that I so willingly give to other people. And I gave it to myself.
I leaned in. And after allowing the moments to simply be what they were, without naming them, without fighting them, without resisting them, I felt relieved.
Then moments became days.