"Breathe" by Liyen Chong






“Breathe and everything changes.” That was a piece of advice on one of the many podcasts that I listened to while driving to and from Minneapolis this weekend. In a yoga pose, this advice certainly holds true. The breath opens us, shifts our alignment and our understanding of the body. As we learn to listen more and more closely to our entire selves — mind, body, spirit — we can feel the possibility that the breath offers. We learn to trust it. Off the mat, though, this kernel of wisdom can also be translated as “Pause and everything changes.” Pause and your anger diminishes. Pause and you can soften your gaze and see your whining child with love. Pause long enough and the entire situation will shift, change, become tolerable or understandable

Yesterday I was in traffic talking to my mom on the phone when I noticed that the woman in a car two lanes over was clearly lecturing me. She was pointing at my car and gesturing, seeming to point out some inaccuracy in my vehicle’s placement. I couldn’t hear her, but I could feel her vibe loud and clear, and it was something less than gentle or kind. My anger rose in response. I pictured myself getting out of my car, striding through the traffic like Clint Eastwood, narrowing my eyes at her, yanking the apple that she’d been gnawing on during her lecture out of her hand and letting her have it in front of God and everyone.  I couldn’t quite picture what letting her have it would look like, but a pithy, clever soliloquy was involved.

The apple would drop from her hand with amazement. Then bowing slightly, I’d drape the scarf around her neck and walk mindfully back to my car.

Three hours later – after a soccer match, after groceries, after laundry and vacuuming  – I was on my mat, and I was breathing. With one hand on my belly and the other on my heart,  I remembered the woman from the car. Her imperious expression and the raised eyebrow “So There!” look of satisfaction she gave me just as I drove away, came shooting back. But it shifted. This time, I pictured myself with a khata I just happened to have in my car, one of those white scarves that the Dalai Lama is always handing out in order to show (according to one Buddhist site) “the sincerety of one’s offering, with no negative thoughts or motives in mind.” Serenely, I’d float across the lanes of traffic and approach her with a beatific smile. The apple would drop from her hand with amazement. Then bowing slightly, I’d drape the scarf around her neck and walk mindfully back to my car. Everyone witnessing the transaction would feel warm inside, remembering to be kinder and gentler.

Now let me admit that this vision — while indeed  kinder and gentler than the Clinton Eastwood variation — is still a form of antagonism. It comes from the school of Killing Them with Kindness as opposed to the just plain killing school. Better yet would be breathing and letting go. “How interesting that she’s so upset,” I could have thought to myself.  “Thank you Nameless Woman for pointing out to me what ever it is you are trying to communicate.” And let that be it; allow the thoughts and the woman to be gone.

I didn’t quite make it to this third way of seeing, but I did breathe, and I did shift. And so seeing/feeling this small but very real opening, I breathe into those relationships that cause me frustration. I try to soften my own approach, to let go and release my white scarf up into the wind, not caring where it lands or if anyone thinks the better of me for it, but just letting it go. What can you offer up to the wind today?

 When the heart truly understands,
it lets go of everything.

~ Ajahn Chah


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