A few years ago I learned how effective and restorative two small actions can be: 1. Pausing, and 2. Breathing. In an argument or when you’re frustrated with a situation and even when you’re in physical pain, simply pausing to focus on your breathing creates enough space in the situation for negative energy to escape and new energy to enter. Breathing can reset the parasympathetic nervous system in an unbelievably short amount of time, telling your body to chill out. This gives your muscles a chance to relax, slows your heart rate, and reduces stress hormones produced by your endocrine system. It normalizes the body and brings us back into a healthier state of being.
I’ve been focusing on my breathing a lot lately and have been reflecting on this, which brings me to this gratitude writing exercise. And like many of my previous gratitudes, I find myself faced once more viewing humanity through some sort of lens that highlights the disparities in the world and directs my attention toward those who do not have the same material goods, support systems, financial resources or privileges that I enjoy. The words “I can’t breathe,” now carry so much meaning and weight these days, it becomes a little more complex when a white woman utters the phrase, “I’m so grateful for each breath I take.” In many ways, it feels wrong. But breathing is not wrong. Nor am I wrong for being grateful for my life and for the restorative power of breathing. What is wrong is the oppression so many people live under that they can never pause to catch their breath and calm their nerves. What is wrong is when someone’s breath is stolen from them. What is wrong is when someone’s breath is taken freely from them by someone who will never be held accountable.
Bear with me, I promise this is a gratitude entry.
I suppose it’s too soon to try to put into words or fully understand what yesterday’s guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin truly means. It’s a lot to process. But I do know what it means to breathe. And yesterday, there was a moment of collective breathing that took place. Did you feel it? After the announcement of the verdict, there was a massive, almost audible, sigh of relief felt around the world as millions of people simultaneously exhaled some of the tension, anger, anxiety, and sadness that has been building up, synching tighter and tighter around our chests. So for just a few moments, at least, there was breathing. Exhaling pain, inhaling hope. Exhaling so many wrongs, inhaling something that’s finally right. Exhaling loss, inhaling something gained. Exhaling exhaustion, inhaling energy. Muscles relaxed, fists unclenched, souls reignited, spirits were renewed, resolve was strengthened, and minds were cleared to see the path forward. The pressure was eased for a moment to allow everyone to pause and to breathe. For this moment and for all who helped make it happen, I am truly grateful.