By: Rebecca Frager
It seems I am constantly trying to figure out how I am going to get everything done that needs to get done. A class to work on. A house to clean. Breathe. A paper to write. A basement to empty out. Breathe. A closet to organize. Books to shelve. Breathe. Books to weed. An office to pack up. Breathe. A trip to see my daughter and the new baby. A trip to see my aging mother. Breathe. A husband to spend time with. A dog to walk. Exercise. Breathe. Grocery shopping. Birthday shopping, damn, I forgot Addie’s birthday in August. Breathe. A friend to call. A harp to practice. Breathe. There just isn’t enough time. And, it is just me and my husband. Breathe. How did I manage it all when I had kids? It should be easier, right? Breathe. What have I forgotten today? Who have I neglected? Breathe. I feel overwhelmed. Breathe. I can’t keep up. Breathe.
Three years ago, it all came to a halt. Tragedy hit, and everything came crashing down. Breathe? I couldn’t even do that properly. I couldn’t get that deep breath that we so often need to fill our lungs to the fullest. The more I couldn’t get it, the harder it got. I would start to panic. Breathe. For weeks my husband would urge me to go see a therapist. He’d tell me it’s free. It’s part of your benefits. Go. I kept putting it off. I didn’t have the time for that. Besides, I knew I could get through this. I didn’t need help. Breathe. He called. He made the appointment. He dropped me off. Breathe.
I sat on her couch. The tears came. I told her I couldn’t breathe properly. Every time I tried to get a deep breath, it eluded me. I wasn’t fully here. I was on autopilot. I couldn’t remember if I had done everything I was supposed to have done. Breathe. I dreaded phone calls from my family. I didn’t want to go anywhere, do anything, talk to anyone. I wanted to disappear. Breathe. She said, “We are going to breathe.” She gave me some literature to read, some exercises to do, and sent me home. I had never heard of Mindfulness or Mindful Breathing. Or, if I had, I certainly wasn’t aware of it. Thus, began my weekly visits for over a year with my therapist. We talked about death, suicide, divorce, family, dogs, students, books, aging parents, music and healing, husbands, relationships, work schedules, anger, stress, and grief. We talked a lot about grief. We talked about being mindful and being present – about not denying feelings but acknowledging them and letting them go. We talked about the importance of taking time to be in the moment and that taking the time to focus on the breath helps us do that.
Taking the time. To breathe. I do that now. Every day. Every morning. I take time to breathe. I get to work early and take anywhere from five to thirty minutes to focus on my breathing. You wouldn’t think so, but even five minutes makes a huge difference in my day. The benefits of taking time to focus on our breath are numerous. They include the ability to deal more effectively with stress, anxiety, negative emotions, temper, distractions, etc. My practice started with the 4-7-8 technique (you can Google it), and then I began exploring other techniques such as learning about Chakras and body scanning – a head-to-toe practice that focuses on completely relaxing your body. I found a few programs and apps like HeadSpace and Calm that make the practice easy to integrate into my daily schedule and that add variety so the practice doesn’t get tedious. I am bringing mindfulness into my library work. I have begun working with our student population and a few teachers who want to introduce mindfulness to their students. I have “mindful” activities set up in the library for students to explore during lunch if they are so inclined. I don’t push it on them; I just offer the opportunity.
I am selfish with my morning time. The more I do it, the more I realize that I need this time. It’s for me. I won’t be interrupted. I won’t help you if you knock on my door. At first, some people took offense that I was at work but not willing to help them. I would kindly explain that my day begins at 7:15 and that any time before that belongs to me. By now, most people at my job know I do this and honor that time. I still put the coffee on and leave the door cracked. But if you see me with my headphones on, don’t tap me on the shoulder. I’m breathing.