The Soul Breath

Friday afternoons in the summer are a new treat for me.  Our office closes at noon and the staff disperses to enjoy the afternoon, do errands, or even work in the quiet office. After a long winter, “free” Friday afternoons are a welcome respite. One year ago tomorrow, July 1, I was hired for my job. Effectively, today is my one-year work anniversary. I didn’t even realize the date or its significance until I sat long enough to take in some stillness.

I came home and decided to take our aging dog, Emma, and my little buddy, Duke the cat, outside for a bit. It’s a gorgeous day of cool summer temps and billowy white and grey clouds.  There’s the slightest promise of rain in the wind, and the electric blue Wyoming sky reminds me of solid, bright acrylic sky painted on a child’s drawing. It’s just that blue.  Duke and Emma used to wrestle a lot when they were younger. (Cat haters out there, when you bring home a 6-week old kitten and raise him with a dog, he grows up thinking he’s one of the pack). Now they are both getting on in years, and the wrestling has given way to lots of laying down and resting. My usual aversion to laying on the ground disappeared when I saw how relaxed the animals were, so I plopped down in the grass with them. All I could hear were the robins and meadowlarks singing in the nearby fields, a few cars passing by, the rustle of our trees in the breeze, Duke purring, and Emma panting and sniffing. And this is what I saw :

This photo was taken just a short time later with my iPad; it’s not intended to be a great photo of any kind. What’s notable is how I felt while I was looking at this scene. For once, I didn’t have any electronic devices nearby to distract me.  I didn’t have anything I had to get up for, go do, no one to respond to or talk to. No one or nothing to worry about, just for a few minutes. There was complete and total peace while I stared at the shifting clouds. It’s as though my entire soul took a deep breath. After a few minutes, the stillness was over. Duke decided to run, Emma tried to chase him but her hip went out, and I quickly attended to both of them.

I reflected on that deep soul-breath I allowed myself to take, and I realized a few things. This last year has been a roller-coaster. Even though I was working sometimes full-time as a freelancer, working now in an office setting with people, office politics, and set hours has really been harder than I ever thought following my stroke. My neurologist recently reminded me that I’m still in recovery, which seems strange after nearly five years, but is very much the reality of brain injury. I have struggled this year with fatigue in ways I never imagined. I’ve also struggled a bit with anxiety and depression, by-products also very common to brain injury survivors (and worried mothers of young adults, double whammy!)  I don’t need medication, but I do need to keep my guard up all the time and take care of myself. It’s incredibly easy to slip down the rabbit hole but much harder to get back out.

I also realized that the stillness I experienced today was something I used to be able to achieve when I was on my bike, but in a different way.  Long distance road biking is as much a mental challenge as it is physical.  Those mental challenges gave way to a clarity and stillness of its own, as thoughts melt away and one becomes perfectly in tune with breath and movement.

The biggest thing I understood after my soul-breath was that my prayer life is not yet the deep or rich prayer I crave, because I’m not taking in that stillness. I pray more the last couple of years than I ever have, and it’s still a learning process.  When I pray, my anxieties are often at nuclear levels, and I’m just shoving it all at God as quick as I can because I’m hoping he’ll take it from me and release me from the burden of it. I pray for thanksgiving too, but again it’s a rush of thoughts and intentions. I have forgotten about the importance of letting my heart and mind be still.  It’s not only about thanksgivings or pleas for help, prayer is also about the listening.

The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear. -Rumi

I’ve heard this quote before, and seen it attributed to both Rumi and Ram Dass. How hard it’s become for those of us in this gigabyte-tweet-must-do-everything-now world to find time, first of all, and then to make our hearts still to listen to God.  I want to find more of that stillness to take a soul-breath.  I have so very much to learn.

“Be still and know that I am God!”  -Psalm 46:10

Duke the cat and Emma the dog, lifelong friends and my buddies.
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