Breathe on and Be Free
This article was contributed by our Guide and member of our Board of Directors, Jewels Gordon.
I am Jewels. 39 years old with a backpack filled with my own issues, a heart full of love, some experiences that I wish I had not experienced and the grace and wisdom to find meaning and value in all of it. My childhood in one sense was typical and amazing - playing in the woods, laughing with friends, camping for days on end, homemade pizza every Friday night, and the freedom to explore and live adventurously. However, there were also incredibly hard times that still sit with me today.
It took me 25 years to find meditation, and it took me another five of practicing to be able to sit in my own body, semi comfortably, part of the time. Now, almost 40, I think I kind of, maybe, get it.
If only I had been taught as a child how to sit and breathe, to follow my breath, to feel my body on the ground, and to be where I was - to be present. If I had practiced coming back to the breath over and over, allowing thoughts to come in and go out, like their transient nature does, how would my childhood have been different? How would I have handled stress as a teen? An adult? If in school they had sent me to sit and scan my body as a means of connecting to myself, a way of calming my system to recognize my feelings, acknowledging them and letting them go again and again, instead of reprimanding me for not being able to sit still or for talking too much. Who would I be? I wish I was nurtured in a way that allowed me to grow and thrive, that prepared me for life that is filled with stressors, triggers and a myriad of emotions.
Today I read a simple statement, “You can live for weeks without food, days without water and only minutes without air.” To me this means that being present with my body, following my breath as a way to calm myself, and being able to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, sensations and thoughts are invaluable not only to my mental health, but also to my physical health. These things seem so simple, and they are. But together, when explored, practiced, and enjoyed regularly, they are quite profound - life-changingly profound. And I wish I had been taught this when I was a child.
But they didn’t and I wasn’t. Instead I learned on my own as a young adult, and I am continuing to learn - this is a journey and a lifetime of practice. I believe it is the single best thing I have ever done for myself - learning to breathe, to sit with myself. How amazing life is for me now that I can tolerate stress and handle my anxiety. This gives me hope: Hope that we are learning as individuals, families, communities, and as a nation to embrace our inner worlds, our Human nature and Human bodies and what it takes to live life as fully and adeptly as possible. And that breathing is the center of it all.
When the Guides of our youth programs at Through the Trees bring the kids and teens together in a circle and ask everyone to take a few slow, deep breaths before discussing the next part of our day, we are hoping to to begin to instill just a small piece of this mindfulness. When we sit patiently with a child who is upset, and we gently suggest “try taking a deep breath with me” so they can feel more grounded, we are hoping they will remember this the next time they are feeling angry or sad. And when we do “sit spot” (a mindfulness practice, usually in nature, in which we sit or lie down quietly for several minutes to just be) with the teens, we hope they will initiate this practice on their own at home to help become more aware of emotions and thoughts in their own bodies, reduce stress, and bring about peace, perhaps when they need it most.
Breathing brings life to all sentient Beings, centers the mind, grounds the body, feeds the soul and is the single most important thing to teach our kids, our teens and ourselves as a means to living a full and balanced life. They didn’t teach me this as a kid and maybe they did or did not for you - but it’s never too late to learn. In fact, you can begin right now by closing your eyes for a moment and taking Three - Slow - Deep - Breaths...