Breathe and Walk: Old First E-pistle 05.08.15

Breathe and Walk: Old First E-pistle 05.08.15

I’ve been in a little funk lately. It’s probably mostly my hand… and my lack of progress with hand therapy. Two of my fingers basically are not working yet. And while you can do more than you might expect with a thumb and two fingers, it’s amazing how easily the fourth and fifth fingers can get in the way. And what you need your whole hand for. Which means daily tasks are still challenging; for example I can’t write or use a fork with much coordination.

Probably plaguing me more is how the occupational / physical therapists’ restrictions — no biking, no gym — and their session’s claims on my time cut into my usual ways of structuring my life, handling stress and including simple, physical pleasures in my daily routines.

Now, I understand full well that in the big scheme of things mine are not the worst of burdens. Many of you are bearing much heavier loads. (I saw a patient at the Hand Center with two broken legs and a broken arm!) But, I confess, it’s been enough to make slogging through my days a bit trying.

So I don’t feel too much like the Princess and the Pea complaining, perhaps you too know how even something small can upset your equilibrium enough to make daily life more of an uphill climb.

Looking for some strength or help along the way, I’ve rediscovered two basics. I’m not sure if the Reformation invented our belief in “back to basics” movements, but if it didn’t, it certainly secured for them a primary position in the cultural constellation of the modern industrial world. So, perhaps I’m being a good Protestant in finding help in breathing and walking. After all, a breath is the first act we need to take after we’ve been pulled from our mothers. And walking, well, it’s the first step of our independence.

Or maybe walking and breathing as my crutches are a bit more syncretistic — my stealing from Buddhism.

I have known on-foot pleasures before. Both as an urban pedestrian and a cross-country hiker. When I have been someplace new and walks were not just a slower means to a geographical goal, but also a bit of discovery around every corner or the next ridge.

In Managua, on my sabbatical, my neighbors used to laugh that I would leave on foot in the morning, traverse the whole city and not return until dusk. I guess that was often true, but those days to me were a series of surprising engagements with strangers or stumbled upon Brigadoons.

A couple of years ago when a group of us at Old First were working together on “The Artist’s Way,” I was reminded that walking could be something more than instrumental, not just my means for getting someplace. Instead, walking can be an end in itself. You probably can’t imagine how many times in the last two months, I have given thanks that it was my hand and not my foot that was run over.

During this period of what has seemed sometimes more like a forced march, I’ve found walking not only a good way to slow down and notice more. It’s also room and space for things to bubble up. I have said before, Jesus never traveled faster than on foot. And it has occurred to me in this slow time, that maybe walking leaves me more apt to actually follow… as in follow Jesus.

Then this week, I came across some advice for sleeping, a trouble I can have on any night, but which since the accident has become regular. Someone suggested to me a yogic breathing exercise that promises to relax one’s body and put one to sleep. I’ve only practiced it a few times and tried it two nights. And, perhaps, it’s the power of suggestion, but the rhythms of breathing do leave me feeling relaxed. And last night, I woke up in the middle of the night as usual, but I was able to get back to sleep. I guess time will tell…

I’m of the generation of childbirth coaches who learned Lamaze breathing exercises to help women through labor and delivery (in my case my wife and the birth of my children!). A stress management class in college had first introduced me to breathing techniques. And I have now done enough meditation, yoga and prayer to know that becoming aware of one’s breathing can calm and regulate. And finally, when I’ve been on long bicycle rides, particularly in the mountains, I know the need to watch my breath as closely as I pay attention to the speed and power with which I am pedaling.

But this time, as I get intentional about my breathing — exhaling everything in my lungs, with my tongue pushed against the back of my upper teeth; inhaling as much as I can in four seconds; holding my breath for seven seconds; and finally, with my tongue again behind my teeth, exhaling for eight seconds… all this for four repetitions — I keep thinking of how God breathed into us to quicken us. Just dirt from the ground, and breath from God, and somehow the miracle of making humans come to life.

Walking and breathing — the first isn’t always possible and the second is a necessity. And both have helped me. They haven’t gotten me past all my troubles, now or ever. But they’ve kept me going.

And I recommend them to you too if sometimes life feels sort of hard going. They have reminded me of something I learned in a prayer group in the first church I served: no matter how difficult your burdens, God always gives you a way to take that will make your life better.

See you in church,


P.S. I went back to the gym this morning, and more exertion lifted my spirits even farther. If you can exercise, the results are much more than physical!