Countdown: on the launching pad

Today, on this eve of a new year, I have an image from August burning inside my head: my first ziplining experience.

I remember a sense of utter dependency on the expertise of the person in charge of tying together my harness. Since Jen was a friend of my cousin who coordinated our adventure, and since she questioned knots and made fixes and adjustments to our ropes and gear, I felt more comfortable that I might not die from harness failure. (That outrageous wedgie, however, would surely show up in an autopsy …)

The major discomfort showed up not in my harness, but at the top of the tree house – the first launching pad. Our group consisted of three adults and two children – both of whom were seven years old at the time. One of them was my own child. He wasn’t the first to jump into the air and ride through the trees to the next pad. He was the second. And I hadn’t jumped yet – none of the adults had jumped. Suddenly, the children were “there” and we adults were still “here.” All of the dialogue inside my head about not going through with the ride ended there. I had no choice now. My son was “there” and I had to get “there,” too. Zipline, Jaden 08-2013

Then the dialogue shifted to ways to embrace the ride gracefully and without repeating a rock-climbing scene from summer enrichment camp just before eighth grade. There, I climbed to the top only to discover that my legs totally gave out and my knees were shaking. Uncontrollably. I was mortified. I don’t even remember how I got down. I did, obviously, but I have zero memory of it. This HAD to play out differently.

It’s funny how, as I remember that moment, I can see my whole self on the launching pad, as if I were watching it AND doing it at the same time. I sat back into the harness to become confident, at least, that I was securely tied to the wire. I fixed my eyes not on the trees and certainly not on the ground, but on the wire as I jumped off the first launching pad. I probably didn’t breathe for a few seconds, but I did squeal as I flew through the air, white knuckles and all. I’m sure it was by design, but there was an unfortunate camera set up on this first pass between tree-houses. There was a sign about two-thirds of the way across telling you when to smile, etc. I may have mustered one, but there was something FAR more important on my mind. I needed to nail the landing. For those seconds on the wire, I was some sort of gymnast, or an actress in The Matrix, and my “pay” depended on how well I could land. When I passed the camera, I smiled, but in my mind, I was a cat, and I was about to cheat death with a brilliant landing on my (paws) feet in that tree stand. I landed so beautifully, that the guide who caught me had to comment on it. “Why the heck didn’t they catch a picture of THAT?” I thought to myself.

Today is a sort of launching pad day, too. That’s probably why I remembered the ziplining experience. I’m one who believes that images that come to us – particularly ones that are so clear and detailed – are messages to us, and that we should pay close attention.

I’m not going to ruin things by unpacking everything the story/image means to me specifically. Instead, let me simply wish three things for you in 2014:

1. May you experience trust in new and thrilling ways.

2. May you discover your personal motivation precisely when you need it the most.

3. May all your landings be a perfect “10,” even if you look awkward and perhaps feel frightened while you are moving from point A to point B.

Peace and love to you and yours in 2014. Go with God,

Oh, and don’t forget to breathe!

This isn’t the first time I’ve shown up late in a trending conversation. Until something becomes an issue for me directly, I don’t generally go looking for answers.

For the past several years, I have improved my habits toward a more healthy lifestyle – in some ways, rather dramatically. Still, I am one of the millions of Americans who spends a majority of her waking hours sitting in front of one screen or another. And, apparently, I am also one who forgets to breathe while reading the screen.

More than 5 years ago, Linda Stone broke a story about email apnea on Huffington Post. The condition is defined as simply holding one’s breath or otherwise shallow breathing while reading the screen, mostly while reading email. The idea is that we often hold our breath in anticipation of what is coming next in communications. And what, do you suppose, is her suggested remedy for overcoming the cumulative effects of such an under-serving practice of breathing consistently over time? Well, get up and go talk to somebody face to face!

I admit freely to having a preference for email for most communications. It can be very effective for communicating information without losing too much time in yada-yada-yada.  But, what we lose by limiting our face-to-face interactions is the essence of the person to whom we are “speaking.” So, even though I like to use email for practical reasons, I do recognize the loss of other sensory connections made while talking to someone and the elimination of signals that come through body language.

My line of full-time work is in administration. We live by email, essentially, 24 hours per day. Weekends used to be “closed” days, but email continues to come in day or night, seven days a week. That’s a lot of impersonal communicating – and a lot of breath-holding if you are reading emails that provoke anxiety.

20131220-150830.jpgA couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with adult-onset asthma. It was unsettling. Unnerving. Difficult to accept. The worst part, really, was dealing with the sleepless nights and emergency room visits prior to getting a diagnosis and some drug therapy. It seemed in many ways like anxiety because, well, when you can’t get in a full breath, you do become a little anxious. The symptoms escalate reciprocally: airways constrict, you begin to feel anxious, more constriction, more anxiety … you get the idea.

I stayed on medication until things seemed under control. I did a lot of research about adult asthma and discovered that, during those times when I felt I couldn’t get in enough air, I was sucking in my stomach and trying to breathe with my neck and shoulders. It looked desperate, and it was. And it never worked. It was like I had forgotten how to breathe.

As I became more aware of my breathing habits, I made an effort to practice proper breathing techniques. Upon inhaling, I allow my stomach to open out, making room for my lungs to expand. As part of one exercise, I take in a deep breath, hold it a few seconds, then exhale, sucking in my stomach at that point, to help squeeze out the air. Then, I hold that for a few seconds before taking in the next breath.

After exercising this way for a while, I noticed that my “asthma” symptoms disappeared. No night-time panics, gasping for a deep breath, no need to prop myself up to sleep, no daytime breathing difficulties. All better.

Until recently.

I noticed the return of my symptoms, along with a significant increase in stress at work, over the last several weeks. This time, I made a connection between my daytime breathing habits – shallow, improper breathing with repeating periods of “apnea” – and my daytime sources of stress.

We can’t eliminate stress. I know that. We have to figure out ways, instead, to cope with it. I always considered breathing one of those involuntary activities of the body – you know, something I don’t have to remind myself to do. However, I’ve learned that breathing may not be as automatic as I always thought, particularly in a stressful environment.

The holiday season can be very stressful. Do you notice these symptoms as you spend extended time in front of the computer screen? Take notice! And don’t forget to breathe.

Worse than “no”

[Tonight’s article posted first at More Than Millennial, where I am a new contributing partner.] MtM profile

I’m not sure exactly when it happened. At some point in the last 50 years or so, American culture essentially lost the ability to delay gratification. Maybe it was because we were deemed a world “superpower.” (Try not to let THAT go to your head.) We put our American ingenuity to work and came up with new ways to get the things we want – bigger, faster, better. Well, maybe not always better, but bigger and faster at least.

Think about some of the most popular technological advances since the 1970’s: microwave ovens, computers, the internet, personal cell phones. They all seem to be inventions that save us from something we dread: waiting.

Now, I’m no different from the majority of folks born and raised in this part of the world. I am one of the most impatient people I know. If I have the choice between heating something up in a saucepan for five minutes versus a quick minute in the microwave (using the same plate I plan to eat from), then I’ll choose the microwave. Every time. When I mentioned to my ex-husband that I was preparing an article on the subject of waiting, his response was explosive laughter. You know, the one that goes BWAAAHHHHAAHA! “That should be a good one,” he remarked sarcastically, insinuating his first-hand knowledge of my heroic level of impatience. He would want to use an illustration other than my saucepan example. He’d have lots and lots from which to choose.

For people like me – and maybe you, too – there isn’t much worse than being told, “no,” you can’t have something you want to have or do something you want to do. “I want it, and I want it NOW!” There is one thing, though, that can really get us. It’s being told “yes, but not yet.”

You see, “no” is harsh and cold, and it leaves us feeling a bit hopeless. It hurts sometimes. But, it’s a lot like ripping off a bandage. It really stings at first, but we get over it relatively quickly. “Yes, but not yet,” though … that one is a lot more tricky. We have to sit in our discomfort – sometimes, for a pretty long time. We might prefer “no” to “yes, but not yet.” “No” seems kinder than “wait” because we don’t have to suffer as long.

I just finished five years of graduate studies (Divinity School), full-time status, while maintaining a full-time job and a part-time job, all while maintaining a family and home. I want the closure and the celebration that goes along with graduating by ceremoniously walking across-stage to receive my degree and hood while my family and friends are there in the audience to mark this very special occasion. Ideally, I would like for that to happen now. But, the process is that I have to wait.

Until May.

It’s Advent season now in the Christian calendar. It’s the season of great expectation – waiting for the arrival of Jesus, the Christ, the Savior. We commemorate the birth of Jesus and the miracle of “God with us.” We also acknowledge the ongoing period of waiting for His return. Contrary to the slew of predictions you may hear from time to time about the end of the world or the return of Jesus, the fact is that we don’t know when Jesus will come back. He even said it “isn’t for us to know.” We are just supposed to wait. And be ready.

While driving through downtown this evening during commuter traffic, I was struck by the ringing of church bells. I rolled down my window so that I could hear them more clearly. “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free. From our fears and sins release us. Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s Strength and Consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.” (Charles Wesley, 1745.) Beautiful.

And as I was reminded of the joy in this great expectation, sitting at a light in the middle of heavy traffic, I didn’t mind waiting. I found rest there instead … and smiled.