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Change and Breathing

We are living in a time of great change. Change comes with uncertainty. For many people, uncertainty creates anxiety. We can’t eliminate these factors from life, so how do we accept change, uncertainty, and anxiety with grace?

One perspective that helps, is that nothing gets better without change.

Even when change is uncomfortable, it can produce positive outcomes. What is important is to notice is the potential for growth. Changes from a pandemic, social issues, and political elections can seem overwhelming. They are. The pandemic has affected every moment of our days. It has changed how we relate to people. How we buy food. How we interact. How we work. There is no sense of normal when changes are so widespread.

That upheaval takes a toll.

I’ve been reading about psychological first aid and encourage you to do so as well. Most of us aren’t trained psychologists, but being familiar with stress reactions can help us hear ourselves and others more clearly.

So much has changed that even the way I brew coffee has changed. I used to drink from the pot at work, but working remotely prompted me to start brewing my own in our old percolator. While the coffee perks, I do my breathing exercises. That small change has allowed new awareness and growth.

Often the small changes are where insight sprouts.

This week I was breathing while the percolator grumbled. The sound faded from my awareness. As the percolator neared the end of its process and got quieter, I became unsettled because I felt like I was hearing another sound. I did not fight the distraction, but rather let it be to see what would happen.

The fact was, there was another sound. Below the gurgle, I was hearing the ticking of the clock. When I identified the sound, all my awareness went to the ticking, wondering how I heard it and why I didn’t remember hearing it before I knelt to breathe. Then I acknowledged the sound was in my senses and returned my focus to my breath. The sound remained, but demanded less focus.

Somehow this short series of events helped to encapsulate much bigger problems and let them rest.

One reason we do breathing practice is, as a friend always describes, to calm the monkey mind. Focusing on the breath helps to calm the gurgle of percolating personality and the motor whine of anxiety. As the mind begins to still, awareness naturally begins to move.

This is not the first time this has happened. When I started aikido we practiced in a community center that shared space with children’s gymnastics. As we would kneel to breathe, after a few minutes I would be aware of new things activating my senses. Sometimes it was a conversation in the neighboring room. Or the clock on the wall. Or the children racing up and down the hallway. Or the sudden smell of popcorn; their favorite afternoon snack.

All those things are there. All the sounds and smells, layered on top of each other, sometimes just below explicit awareness. But sitting, stilling, and breathing lets awareness shift around and we can notice.

This week, hearing the sound of the clock behind the percolator was strongly distracting for a moment because I couldn’t identify it behind the noise. Then as one sound quieted, the other became loud.

It is the moment we are living in. One noise gives way to the next. We cannot grasp them, control them, or stop them. But we can notice them, hear them, and still ourselves. In that stillness, there is a stability within the change and anxiety.

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