Category Archives: Deeper Sensation

Take a Deeper Breath

I’m huffing and puffing my way up the steep rocky path toward the gorgeous mountain lakes my companion has promised lie ahead. It is Rocky Mountain National Park, after all. It’s no surprise that the air is thin, but this doesn’t hamper him. He lives a mile high and trains for triathlons in the parks, reservoirs and along the roads nearby.

“I could use a 10 second break,” I plead. He obliges and we step aside to let the nimble and altitude-acclimated bound on by. A few who pass by on their downward trek offer us an encouraging, “You’re doing great!”

As I pause, my friend says sympathetically and so simply, “I find it helps to take deeper breaths.”

At the suggestion, of course, I inhale a deep breath and then draw it deeper. And you know what? It worked! As we continued, when my breath quickened and my heart started to race on the steep parts, instead of huffing and puffing and pressing on so I wouldn’t seem like a wimp, I just expanded my lungs a bit deeper on each breath.

Deeper. Slower. Stronger. I’ve heard they call this combat breathing. I call it respite in the Rockies.

And, me being me, I find myself mind-meandering through my long-ago (and mostly far away) respiratory physiology classroom training. How does that work again? At higher altitude the partial pressure of O2 in the air and my lungs is lower… the sign at Pikes Peak said 60%, I believe, much lower than the 98% I am used to at sea level … which means that there is plenty of room for more O2 saturation in my blood stream. More inhalation means more air available which provides more O2 available to be exchanged. Right? And with lots more blood coursing through that pulmonary circulation thanks to my hardworking heart which was pumping fast and faster, my deeper breaths were DOing something!

Ok OK. Miraculous and scintillating as that science-speak is, what I am captured by as I look back on this trek that, yes, I survived, is the simplicity of “Take a Deeper Breath.” It reminds me…

You have reserves you don’t realize.

You have untapped flexibility and capacity you can call upon.

And BONUS! One good thing leads to another! Deeper breathing activates a whole (parasympathetic) neural reflex that triggers calming.

All this flies in the face of the push harder, exert more, breathe faster-shallower, hyperventilation scenario it seems our world inclines us to visit these days. Sure, quick, shallow breaths may work in a pinch (like in a panic attack) because, by allowing us to blow off extra CO2, they trick our brain into thinking we don’t need to breathe. Underwater divers make use of this at their own peril.

Pikes Peak Summit
Yes it does take your breath away!

But we, the anxious lot of us, adopt it in error and to our own disadvantage. We need to breathe. And rather than shallow, we need to go deeper. Rather than faster, we need to go slower. Deeper. Slower. By choice.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

How much of my day is spent reacting and responding with faster, faster? How much more capacity would I find if I replaced shallower with deeper? Faster with slower? What if I trusted that My Maker had already provided the means for me to climb the mountain? Any mountain? If only I listened to the voice of my capable companion?

As we ascended and came nearer to the mountain lake, those returning from their trek greeted us with smiles and happy shouts of, “You’re almost there!” How can you not smile at encouragement like that?!

Oh and the vistas did NOT disappoint.

Take a deeper breath. So simple.

I wonder what other resources one might discover in listening and complying with the voice of Wisdom and Experience while we climb this steep, rocky path called life…

The undeniable evidence of your senses

Nothing is certain these days, it seems. Or perhaps one might say, nothing is certain except uncertainty.

That feels especially true when I put my trust in things I can see, hear, touch, taste or smell. Yep, the evidence of my own senses seems to betray me these days. Even old familiar things are tempting to disbelieve. Especially when our collective perceptions are so divergent.

But it’s always been so. And actually I find that reassuring. Because in the midst of differing opinions and the drawing of different conclusions, each has its own validity… in a way. And that might, if you go along for the unexamined ride, convince you that there is nothing to trust and no one to believe in.

OR … it might send you searching for understanding by diving deeper. For me, the resource that never disappoints is the human body. I never cease to find something enlightening, explanatory and remarkable, yet so astoundingly simple that it sits me down and shuts me up.

I mean, just consider how you see, hear, touch, taste and smell!

For times when the darkness around you makes it hard to see, God designed a pupillary dilation mechanism to let just the right amount of light in.

For times when the sound of confusion surrounds you, God designed a cochlear hearing system which resonates uniquely to every pitch.

For times when gentle caress feels distant, God designed subdermal pressure receptors so sensitive they leave you giddy at the touch of a ladybug or the tickle of a feather but alert you to a creeping spider.

For times when life’s bitterness threatens to spoil your table fellowship, God designed other tastebuds activated by sweet, sour, salty and savory for balanced seasoning.

For times when the stench of evil and injustice suffocates, God designed olfactory epithelium to compel you to seek refreshment and renewal by the winds of the Spirit of hope.

It’s amazing to think, isn’t it, that the complexity that is each of us could possibly have begun with just two single cells and 26 sets of information. But it’s so. Quite a Designer that must have been… must be…. and is even now as we go through life adapting and responding to what comes.

Who in the world would ever have thought of all that?

Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.

John 10:37-38

Is that you, God? It’s me, Wendy

Merlin, the Cornell Lab Bird ID App makes every walk better. Instead of listening to the constant chatter inside my brain, it has me attending to the bird song all around me. At the push of a button, I am recording and the app (and I) are listening, patiently. We wait and wonder together until, like magic, the app produces images of the bird who is singing and calling to me. Or perhaps several suggestions of who it might be. It’s not always sure, but it usually designates a “most likely” candidate.

How cool, I got to wondering, would it be if I had a God ID App. You know, point and record, and my phone tells me whether what I am listening to is God.

Wow. That is rich. Would my phone explode with God-sightings? Yeah, that one and that one, too and that over there and… OR, would I, after waiting a good long while eagerly anticipating the undeniable God-moment, give up in frustration when my App wasn’t able to definitively conclude that God was within hearing. A still small voice is, after all, a very difficult thing to hear. Not sure we can rely on technology to detect it.

Still smiling, I move along the meandering path, phone recorder at the ready. I do not hurry. I am listening. Along the way I greet the dog walkers I pass with what is probably a little more enthusiasm than is called for. The pups seemed especially glad to see me. I excuse myself when, in my attention to the App, I veer a little more on their side than is allowed.

Then, I hear the perfect bird. It’s singing solo up in the branches to my left. I point my phone in its direction, punch up the recording and wait. Northern Mockingbird, it tells me. Wait, it also might be a Brown Thrasher.

Then I see it. Perfectly illuminated in the dense green of the tree. Unmistakable. RED. It’s a male cardinal. I look and listen. I can see the sounds coming from its beak. Its partner flies in to greet it. Female cardinal for sure. Merlin App, you have failed.

Wow. Wonder if I can trust this App at all. Maybe it’s been messing with me all along.

So much for that God App idea. Clearly, these human-made versions are only so good. But, still, there is something about the walking while not hurrying, the listening, the expectation, even the waiting… that all felt pretty darn good. Sort of like an inward glow of positivity. Hopeful. Friendly. Constructive. Creative. Maybe there’s something to this.

Perhaps I don’t need an App at all. Maybe I have all I need, not at my fingertips, but at my disposal. If I wander and listen and wait patiently, love will show up.

I wonder what those dogs saw in me.

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