“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.” -Roshi Joan Halifax
Before I read this in Brené Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness today, yesterday in the shower, I got irritated by the culture we live in. Equal to my irritation was concern for humanity. Brené says we are in a spiritual crisis. I’ve thought this for years and it’s origin is in the quote above.
This culture demands we exhale constantly, and continually. Are we healthier for this? Are we wiser? Kinder? Maybe we think we are more productive, successful and cool. But, so what. We are losing ourselves— and essentially killing ourselves with all the exhaling.
For a week now I’ve been inhaling. I have finished my fall semester of graduate school, and I am in a break before my final semester. I’ve been pushing for four years to earn a degree, and although I anticipate this experience giving me discipline, knowledge and growth I could not have had otherwise, academic learning only uses a limited part of my mind.
Believe it or not, there was a time, before these four years, where I probably did too much inhaling. I used a larger part of my mind for introspection and self-study. I dug deep into internal spaces, many of them dark. But, in these years of inhaling, I learned so much about myself— some of who I am, but mostly of who I am not. This kind of introspection is brutal, and also beautiful, and is absolutely necessary to our growth.
In these several years of exhaling, and holding my breath through graduate school, I have learned what the university wants me to learn. I have gained skills and knowledge from books, projects and papers. I have pushed myself beyond my comfort level to finish the readings, projects and papers. I have become an expert at organizing my time, or more accurate, obsessing about my time. And yes, I have been more outwardly productive, and I will see myself as successful and cool once I have two degrees on my wall. But— I am going to be working with people after I graduate. People who will be struggling with mental health issues, and essentially experiencing their own spiritual crisis. The books, projects and papers of academia will only take me so far. Those years of introspection is what will be the core foundation of everything I have to offer.
This past week, I inhaled again. Next week, I will do the same. That small part of mind gave way to the larger and time hasn’t mattered. Projects and papers and textbooks haven’t mattered. I’ve read books I want to read. I’ve worked on my projects and writings. I hear my inner voice again. She’s still here. I heard her in the shower yesterday. She is concerned.
Now, that I have experienced extremes on both ends of the exhale and inhale I see how important it is for balance. I see how I needed the long time of the inhale to dig through the past, to face my demons and come out the other side. I see how I’ve needed this long time to exhale— to throw myself into this external world and learn about it, and at times be horrified and frightened by it. Right now, as a culture we are off balance. We are doing far too much exhaling. Our focus needs to come back to the in-breath, the inhale. Winter is a perfect time for introspection. To take a break. To check in with ourselves: how are we feeling? What do we need? Who have we become? Where are we headed? What small shifts can we make to change directions? How can we love ourselves more? Love each other more? What is in our dark spaces that needs to see the light?
One of the inhaling practices I did this week was to begin a new journal, and instead of venting through the pages as I often do, I pasted some images that expressed my intentions for the coming year. Next to the images I wrote in present tense about how these intentions will unfold for me. One of my intentions is to lean into, with full heart and vulnerability, two primary relationships. I have spent years blaming, resenting and essentially fearing them. I have put up my armor and said: you will not hurt me. I have used the weapons of self-righteousness, manipulation and victimhood. These once, so I believed, gave me power. Now, I see their truth— they only create more distrust, resentment and therefore, further isolation.
Over the past several months, I have added a small movement to my yoga/mediation practice. I open my arms, roll back my shoulders, look up and say, I am open. When I was a little girl, trick or treating with my dad, I took off my Cinderella mask and said to my dad: I just want to be myself. This has been my journey— twists, turns and tangles of unraveling all that I am not to become who I am. To open up my arms, roll back my shoulders and say, I am open. This is the wilderness Brené speaks about. It takes courage and a hell of a lot of commitment.
To know ourselves, we must inhale- even if it just starts with one deeper breath in. If we do this continually, we will tip the scales toward truth and light, and this spiritual crisis will transform into a spiritual revolution.
The Soul Reporter