Susan Steen

Susan Steen

“Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” — Mary Oliver

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Isn’t that how it works?

It makes sense, until you really think about it, until you think about how life works.

It’s time to make a small adjustment, and I think it will change so much.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Let’s begin.

I love deep breathing. The way the stomach goes so far out as you fill your whole self with air, and the diaphragm gives thanks. But for so long, I thought that was the most important part of breathing —pulling in all the good I could, so I could exhale a long full stream of air.

One day recently I just exhaled, and it occurred to me, as I noticed the relief, that in order to fill my whole being with fresh air, I needed first to get rid of whatever was in me. Otherwise, I’m just breathing in good stuff on top of old, stale stuff. That is a bit like trying to warm a cold cup of coffee with piping hot coffee, which you’ll never enjoy because you end up with warm coffee.

Isn’t it better to pour out the cooled off coffee and be able to enjoy fresh, hot coffee again? Is that really asking too much? Breathing out, pouring out, exhaling — Mary Oliver understands, I think. Just breathing isn’t really life. We need more.

What if it’s all about the exhale, and we’ve been SO focused on the inhale? What if it’s all about getting rid of (exhaling) the excess in life?

I have a friend who absolutely will not purchase a new piece of clothing unless she knows what she will be getting rid of in her closet. What if, right now in the busiest season of the year, when being a consumer is a most exciting thing, we stop to exhale before we do anything else?

I’d like you to give it a try. Right now, exhale. You might be tempted to breathe in first, and that’s OK, but I want you to focus on exhaling. Even after you think you’ve done that, there is more breath left. Pull your stomach in as you push out all the air you can. Now, breathe in deeply and slowly. You might even pause for a second and take in just a bit more. Isn’t that a magnificent feeling? But how could we pull in any of that extra air if we hadn’t made room for it first?

Breathing in and out comes naturally to us, but when we become conscious of our breath, it changes rhythm. Maybe that’s really what I’m wanting to do as December is here, as the end of the year is upon us, as in just a few more weeks we will have this clean slate.

It can’t be clean until we empty it. We can’t be really ready for all the good that 2021 holds for us if we are holding on to what has been holding us back, keeping us down, making us feel we were suffocating here in 2020. But it hasn’t all been bad.

I do like the visual connection to exhaling to draw a correlation in my life. It’s made me take a look at everything I’m not exhaling, like ...

  • · relationships
  • · clutter in the house
  • · clutter in my daily life
  • · hurt feelings
  • · mistakes

Can you think of other things you haven’t exhaled? If you and I are trying to bring fresh air and fresh life into our space, we need to do some serious exhaling.

But before we do that, let’s make sure we are breathing properly. The American Lung Association would like us to start with our nose. Breathing through your nose is a gamechanger if you have been a mouth breather. Breathing through your nose means those little hairs can filter the allergens in the air before they hit your lungs, and air that is too cold or too warm gets an adjustment.

When you are breathing (through your nose, unless you have a sinus problem), let your diaphragm expand — think of it as a belly breath, as your stomach expands to bring in all that good air. And before each inhale, we have to have exhaled, when you flatten your tummy as all the air is pressed out.

Breathing is a natural thing, but when we recognize how the in and out of breathing fits into the in and out of other things in our life, we begin to make conscious efforts in many areas.

Let go of the air that is in you so you can bring in new air.

Let go of the relationships that are hurting you or depleting you so you can bring in relationships that fill you up and strengthen you.

Maybe we’ve discovered we don’t need as many coffee and happy hour dates as we once had.

Let go of the items in your home you are sure you just can’t part with.

Like the air that has to be expelled, so does the clutter, even when it’s beautiful and meaningful.

Our body can take in only so much air, and our homes can hold only so much “stuff.”

Do you really need three hours of news and six hours of movies? How will you find space for new experiences until you expel and exhale?

In the past few years, you might have felt hurt a number of times, and the stack could be teetering as if it will fall over, but how many of those hurt feelings need to stick around? After all, someone else is bound to hurt your feelings. Shouldn’t you make space? (Actually, we would all do better to stop taking things so personally and realize the people who say hurtful things are the ones with the problem, not us).

How many years will you punish yourself for not handling that situation better than you did, for not offering your kids more opportunities, or for fixing cereal for dinner more nights than you think you should have? Let it go, just like that breath in you.

Exhale. Inhale. Breathe out what is old, worrisome and depressing. Breathe in what is new, exciting and hopeful.

Stop holding your breath. Let it out.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.

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