Before every flight the airline attendant announces to the passengers in the cabin safety guidelines to follow if the plane experiences any difficulty. One of those guidelines is the following: “If cabin air pressure changes, masks will drop from the ceiling. Grab the mask and make sure there are no twists in the tubing. Gently place the mask over your face. Oxygen will begin to flow immediately into the mask. Place the mask on yourself first and then help those around you who are unable to assist themselves.”
Most of the time a flight is uneventful and the passengers can read, talk, sleep and enjoy the snacks and soda distributed on the flight. There are moments, though, that a sudden jolt may happen, when putting on that oxygen mask is necessary. And to provide safety to those around, putting one’s own oxygen mask first is vital.
I have been in the past months in a life moment similar to that of a jet in crisis deploying the oxygen masks in the cabin. The mask is down and people all around me are clamoring for my attention and help with their mask. I am busily trying to adjust their masks, finding that I am losing my own air. Losing my way. What is needed is for me to stop and put on my own mask. For me to take deep breaths to renew my lung flow. Only then can I continue with my day and life with a renewed focus and energy. When I find myself losing my breath, I can reassess and stop to breathe. Only then can I effectively assist and connect to others in my life. Only then can I live a life of purpose and fulfillment.
I have recognized this reality in a deep way these past few weeks. So I have stopped. And I have put on my mask. Here are a few things I have done in the last week to help me breathe a little more deeply:
- I took a class that I enjoy just for me. I love Restorative Yoga. It is an hour and fifteen minutes of total slowing down. The long and supportive poses, the deep breathing, the meditative music—all nourish me. Honestly, I needed to step back, before I took the class and say to myself, “Deb, what do you enjoy doing?” And within me was an answer of yoga, which I answered.
- I went to bed early and began to make sure that I was getting sleep to rejuvenate my body. When I am running very fast, one of the first things that disappears is sleep. I get up earlier and go to bed later. I can tolerate this pace, yet when I am in this rhythm, I lose focus and get in a space where I am in the doing mode. Doing without thinking. Or feeling. Making a conscious effort to give my body rest time, gives me the energy and focus for myself and others in my daily life.
- I wrote. One of the benefits of writing for me is that writing is a vehicle that allows me to see more clearly. Choosing to blog again…choosing to journal…choosing the written word—allows me to see the bigger picture and to name what is important for me.
- I put me on my calendar with space for a date just with me. When my life is really busy, as it has been, I find that I go, go, go and then I crash. The crash isn’t rejuvinative—it is simply that—a crash. This week, as I planned my week, I made sure that I had a two hour block just for me. Through the week I planned what I would do with that time, much like I would if I were making plans with a friend. I chose to do something that I would love to do and I did it all by myself. My date with myself this week involved good food and art.
- I took five deep breaths. Sometimes I am in the middle of chaos or busyness and the response is necessary and immediate. This week I was in one of those moments and I felt myself losing focus. I shut my office door. Put my hand on my heart and closed my eyes. Then I slowly took five deep breaths. At the end of this minute-slow down I asked myself, “How am I feeling right now.” I named it and then went about doing what needed to be done, knowing that I was aware of me as I took care of the current “to do”.
- I took stock of what I ate and how I exercised. What could so easily be for me an exercise in futility and setting me up for failure became an exercise in observation. I wore my pedometer and at the end of the night I looked at my food intake for the day. Observation only. No judgments. No goal setting. Only observation. I then chose to end my observation with a gratitude to myself that went something like, “Thank you for all of the ways you chose to nourish your body today.”
- I laughed. I laughed a true belly laugh. For me that meant watching a few Jimmy Fallon clips on my computer. I love his talent. I love the way he always is gracious and promoting of his guests. And I love his silly humor. Humor is a dose of breath that goes a long way.
These actions may seem a bit corny or contrived but I have found them to be an important part of reclaiming myself after and during a time of intense busyness and need. In the busyness and the taking care of others, I lost track of what I liked to do. I lost of what I was feeling. I was doing what was important, but I wasn’t being in the importance. I was reacting rather than responding. On some level I lost myself. Slowing down. Putting on my oxygen mask. Refocusing—with purposeful and small actions. All allow me to catch my breath.
I am looking forward to a flight in my life that is uneventful. Maybe even boring. One where I can read, enjoy the snacks offered, and revel in an uneventful ride. In the meantime, I put on my mask and breathe. Doing this allows me to respond to the chaotic and busyness in a way that brings life to all.
Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for dedicating space and time for teachers and teachers of literacy to come together to share ideas, practice and life experience.