Remember to Breathe

For many years I had a bumper sticker on my car "Remember to Breathe".  Many people found this amusing or confusing - for me it was a constant reminder - especially in times of deep distress - Remember to Breathe.

We've all experienced those moments. The ground moves beneath us, what we thought was stable is not. As a friend hashtagged the other day #whathappenedtothecertaintiesoflife ! And it is a bit like that. We feel groundless.

Pema Chodron, Buddisht nun, teacher (and in my eyes a Goddess) tells us to make friends with the groundlessness, to sink into it. To breathe it all in.

If you've ever been in such a position - it is easier said than done. Some events literally take our breath away, as if we have been punched into our very soul. Our initial urge is to stop breathing, to tense, to get ready for the fight or the flight.

But, most of the incidences that do this to us, we can not fight or run from, so we are left with a plethora of hormones surging, telling us to 'get away', making out heart beat faster, our breathing run shallow, pumping our bodies full of adrenalin.

But there is nowhere to run. And no where to hide. We are simply left standing where we were, in our life, with everything about it different.

Grief - in all it's forms is such a challenging thing to deal with. It's not just the simple loss of a person or a thing, it's the loss of the hopes, the dreams and in the case of other events such as relationship break-up, there is the total loss of self. Who am I, if I am not loved by this person? Where do I exit?

Loss of a pet. Loss of a friend. A partner. A parent. The extreme feeling of vulnerability. Of fear. Of needing to be held, supported, protected.

But sometimes this is often not available. Or the person / thing who has left was your usual protector - and they are no longer there to soothe you and tell you that "everything's going to be alright".

Somehow, you have to get to the point that you believe this within yourself.

Somethings are understandable. The passing of parents for example, as difficult and as challenging as it is - is a 'natural' experience. I remember seeing a client who was 75 years of age, and who had just lost her mother. She was so distraught, even though she knew it was inevitable and that her time would come. They had been best of friends for many many years. Through her grief she was able to smile and laugh and commented that even at the age of 75 - you still are not ready to let your parents go - it is never easy.

But other losses are so difficult to comprehend. The loss of a child. A sister. A partner. Someone who you just believed would be around for as long as you - if not longer. Whether by choice (separation) or by death - these things cut us to the bone. Most difficult to understand is when someone may choose to leave us - either by ending the relationship or by suicide.

How does one survive such a loss?

There is so little we can do but go through the motions. Surround ourselves with loved ones. Withdraw if we need to - but not for too long. Grieve. Cry. There is no making sense of these things - how do we tell the brain that everything is "OK" when it is screaming at us that it is not? It is not okay!

But it is. It is what it is. And this is what we have to slowly and surely begin to believe and understand. There is no negotiation. It is done.

Eventually the bargaining stops. The anger dissipates. The grieving feels mildly less like being in the depths of death itself. The squeezing of your chest gently starts to release. You can breath a little deeper.

What gets you through? Time. Time is unfortunately often the only thing. You have to just hang on in there and allow time to heal the wound. Time, people. tears, each part of the steps to recovery.

The "remember to breathe" slogan isn't always just for times of grief of course. It is also for good times - to remind ourselves that we are well and truly alive. It is a reminder to slow down, to enjoy the moment, or simply to think before we react.

Breathing is essential The deeper and the slower the better. In times of grief and shock. Breathe new oxygen. deep. into the body. Press your feet to the earth, feel the ground beneath you, connect with this and breathe.

Remember always to breathe.


When diving and in times of grief, remembering to breathe is essential.  Photo courtesy of Roger Grace

When diving and in times of grief, remembering to breathe is essential. Photo courtesy of Roger Grace