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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…

New Every Morning

I was going to introduce you to a friend of mine, but I’ll just let Him introduce Himself.

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Have you seen Him?

Perfectly Proportioned

Why is it that 10 inches of new powder on the mountain delights and 10 inches piled high on my driveway derides? Same lovely white sparkle. Same fluffy consistency. Same complete coverage of everything in sight. The difference: perspective. One, I am meant to go out and play in. The other, I must plow through so I can get about my business.

This hits me like a 2×4, having just returned home from a brief skiing vacation in Utah. There, we stayed at the home of some friends at a virtual ski lodge nestled in hills near Park City. Sitting at the breakfast table my view of the mountains through the three story great room window was magnificent. Peak after peak of white, punctuated with evergreens, framed against an azure sky. Nothing compares, yet we haven’t even headed up the mountain. Mountains

I am completely dwarfed sitting there. In awe of the mountains and sky, yes, but also in this lodge of a home. Perhaps because mountain majesty rains in on all sides, the homes are gigantic, the expanse of windows taking advantage of every opportunity to show it off. This means the inside is beyond spacious. And so it must be filled to its proportions: furniture is large and plentiful, wall decoration gratuitous, chandeliers and lighting extensive, walkways and hallways and stairwells built to match. Even the kitchen decor has extra. Extra high cabinets, extra counter space, an extra dishwasher, automatic everything. Even the dishware seems pageantry, not a small bowl or a saucer in the lot. Everything is supersized.

And sitting in its midst I feel very, very small. Majesty does this to you. It right-sizes you. But this home, this lodge draws a caution from me. When we live large, we furnish large, appoint large, accessorize large. Because it fits. And living in that space, what’s large seems just right. Because in proportion to all that’s around it, it is. Try to take a picture to demonstrate the largess and you can’t; everything is in proportion. It doesn’t look large at all.

And isn’t that the nature of the “relative.” Proportion is established by comparison. Oh, it’s not that big compared to his house. It’s not that expensive compared to her dress. It’s not that extravagant compared to their vacation. Humans compare. And we will always fall short. But we keep up so we carry on.

helium balloonStrangely and very lamentably, the view from the breakfast table started to lose its luster by the 3rd day. Still gorgeous, it was no longer breathtaking like it was on the first. I had gotten “used” to it. I was more animated by changes to its look: sunrise glow and sunset amber, a helium balloon taking off, incoming clouds that brought that powder. Much as I had become accustomed to the accommodations: where the light switches were, which bowls to use and how to work the coffee maker.

sunset

Grandeur may grab us but life is what drives us, whether to swoosh through the powder or shovel it in high drifts. Many things out there will right-size us, thank God. But because we do tend to get carried away and not even know it, I am so grateful to have the One thing at the center which doesn’t change in size or shape or price or composition. It is so important for our sense of comparison to have something against which all can be measured fairly and accurately and honestly.

One thing that didn’t diminish in that lovely Park City setting was the dark morning sky; pitch, sprinkled with twinkle and glow. The new moon leaning away shyly from the bold glow of a planet, perhaps Jupiter or Venus? early morning lightsEach of the mornings I tiptoed down the wide staircase while all others were asleep and peered out the back picture window. The stars smiled back in greeting with a perfect “W” – the constellation Cassiopeia. I supposed it was for W-endy.

That God, having some fun. Just dashed off a little note for me on the stationery of the morning sky. “Dear child, before you were born I put the lights in the sky. They are mine as you are mine.” Such a small gesture for a God so large, yet so tender, loving and intimate.

Perhaps, had I wandered outside under those stars I would have heard Him chuckle and say, “If she loves this, wait till she sees the room I have prepared for her.”

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