When my husband Dyami and I were first dating, he said something about breathing that changed my life.
His father’s a musician and music teacher. Driving down the freeway that day, Dyami mentioned his dad taught voice lessons occasionally too.
“I hated voice lessons,” I said. I took them on and off through childhood, learning show tunes and the occasional Italian aria. I liked singing fine, practicing less. But the main thing I disliked was breathing.
“I’d have to lie down on the floor with a dictionary on my belly and practice,” I told my husband. “I’d breathe until breathing suffocated me.”
It was true: with the weight on my diaphragm, concentrating my long inhale, air itself smothered me. My habitual anxiety took over from my good intentions. Only a few breaths in, I could not stay still.
Dyami shrugged, keeping his eyes on the road.
“Dad always says it’s the exhale you have to concentrate on. If you just focus on taking in more and more and more, you can’t relax. It’s hard to sing when you’re tense.”
I opened my mouth to respond, and then closed it. I had never thought about lung capacity that way before.
Focus on the exhale, Dyami said. You can’t take in more and more.
It may be that at that moment I knew I needed to marry him.
I’m a trier. A doer, a planner, an intentionality freak. Self-discipline, I understand. Focusing, checklists, goals. I show up early, with all my ducks in a row.
As life skills go, this is not a bad thing. In my more disorganized teens and twenties, I’d put things off and lose track of deadlines or license plate registrations and feel ashamed of my incompetence. Life is easier when you can stay on the ball, and also, the DMV does not fine you.
But especially after I had children, I noticed that my plans and projects and intentional do-gooderness never really satisfied me. I’d add this habit and that routine and experiment with that practice compulsively. I wanted to improve, to do better, to be better. Then I wanted to do some more.
I ate more organic vegetables. I learned how to organize my housekeeping and cut coupons. But nothing felt like it stuck, really. Nothing struck deep.
It was during the whole couponing-and-budget cutting phase that I started wondering exactly why I was working so hard to save money. We weren’t struggling; in fact, Dyami’s business had taken off, and we’d finally become debt-free. I hated shopping, and the whole exercise of clipping coupons and scurrying from store to store with young children made me very uptight.
I didn’t need to clip coupons. I didn’t even like to clip coupons. So why was I clipping coupons, exactly?
Also, I’d started noticing a pattern. I’d read a book or a blog and upend my life to try out the new thing that would change me. Until I read the next book or blog and shifted gears, leaving that earlier intention by the side of the road.
I wanted to be intentional with my life. But more often, I felt like a hamster on a wheel…
I’m over at SheLoves, talking about my long exhale into more simplicity and freedom. Won’t you join me there?