My mum has asthma so I know how important breath is. I know how important it is that her lung passages are open, so she can breathe in and out with ease. I know that the simple act of breathing that I take for granted has been something she has to use medication to support.
Brené Brown talks about the importance of breathing in this last chapter of Braving the Wilderness. Recounting a conversation she had with Dr Joan Halifax.
They met while attending a conference together, and Brené wanted to rest, but instead felt obligated to go to the meet-and-greet. The response from Dr Halifax is beautiful:
Tonight we will exhale and teach. Now it’s time to inhale. There is the in-breath and there is the out-breath, and it’s easy to believe that we must exhale all the time, without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale.
Oh my goodness those words have cut through. This year has been a season of intense output and I knew I needed to slow down and rest. My body was telling me to rest, my soul was telling me to rest. But I wasn’t really sure why.
It comes down to input and output. When you get low on energy, you recognise you’re hungry, so you grab a bite to eat.
So it makes sense that when you have been through a period of intense output that you need time to recalibrate and get the input you need.
But sometimes it is harder to recognise the need for input, like when you hold your breath, and find yourself gasping for air.
The thing about breathing is that it is a rhythm. We can’t exhale all the time. We need to inhale. But it’s also true that we can’t inhale all the time. We need to have a rhythm of both.
Inhale, fill your lungs. Exhale, release that breath out into the world.
Inhale for me is reflection, introversion, and silence
Exhale is sharing and serving.
And this the tension that Brené highlights in this chapter, the tension of strengthening our back, standing in and developing our identity, but not then becoming a hermit. Rather, taking our gifts and sharing them with our world, our family, and our friends.
And it’s a journey. We swing back and forth between a strong back and a soft front. Between strength and vulnerability.
It’s a rhythm. Like breathing.