Heart and lung conditions aside, most of us don’t struggle to breathe. As a species, we have evolved to breathe oxygen on a planet that is not running out any time soon. Fun fact: Nearly half of the world’s oxygen is produced by tiny microscopic ocean algae called Diatoms. It’s not just about the trees people! Thanks to our autonomic nervous system, breathing is something we can do without even thinking about it. Aka sleep. In fact, thinking about breathing can actually make it more difficult.
In meditation, we are invited to notice our breath. Count our breaths. Through this act, we become one with our body and get a front-row seat to its natural processes. When we highjack this process and try to control it, we struggle, and that struggle, if left unchecked, can morph into anxiety or full-blown panic. The irony of a perfectly healthy person surrounded by oxygen yet convinced they are about to suffocate is worth a meditation in itself. I should know, I’ve been that person. Hell, I am that person. 3am. 3pm.
As someone who likes to be in control, I have continued to learn the hard way. In the past, feelings of breathlessness brought me shame and I resented them – as I saw them as a sign of weakness. Whenever I felt it, I fought it. Which of course made it worse. Now when I feel it I know it’s my brain’s way of saying, “let it go, John, we got this.”
‘Let it go. Right Right. Will do. Thanks for the reminder Brain.’
30 seconds later…
‘Yo Brain, what are we letting go?’
When I run up the steep sections of Mount Prevost, I’m met with a voice in my head that screams, “BREATHE .” The voice is so oppressive it often stops me dead in my tracks. Although this voice is in my head, it doesn’t come from my brain. It’s my ego trying to take control of a process it sees as out of control. Because the ego’s voice is louder, I listen to it and allow it to wrest control from my brain’s autonomic breathing system. It doesn’t go well or seem to matter if I’m on running up a mountain or lying in my bed, when ego takes control I breathe harder and faster convinced I can conquer the breathlessness that was ironically created because ego took control.
Spoiler Alert. It never works out. I am inevitably forced to cry uncle, fire my ego (again) and give back the control to my brain – lest I experience a full-blown anxiety attack or worse, lose consciousness from over-breathing (which I’ve never experienced but hyperventilation is a real thing. It appears to be the brain’s last resort to get back the control). Well played, Brain. If that’s even your real name.
Once my brain is back in control, my breathing returns to normal. This allows the carbon dioxide that has built up in my lungs to be let out. It turns out the brain knows a thing or two about keeping itself alive. It also turns out, this was the message my brain was trying to send to me in the first place. BREATHE out. I was so focused on getting oxygen in I failed to let enough carbon dioxide out. Hence, the breathlessness.
‘Let it go, John, we got this.’ Hmm.
It’s hard to breathe easy when we’re trying to conquer and control and we can’t let it go. So I’m learning to submit. And just let it go. And allow my brain to be my brain. It’s the least I can do. And in this case, less is better.
What is Corona trying to teach us?
“Teach us? Corona has everyone trapped in their homes. My anxiety is at an all-time high.”
“Teach us? Corona is bringing out the worst in people. I can’t even find toilet paper, for god sakes.”
“Teach us? Corona is putting millions of people out of work. Small businesses are in danger of going bankrupt.”
“Teach us? Corona has canceled literally everything. What the hell am I supposed to do??”
“Teach us? Corona is a murdering SOB!! The only thing Corona has taught me is life is cruel.”
As with any Obstacle, if we can manage to see past our anxiety and anger, we’re left with lessons that can be learned. With lessons, comes resilience. Resilience builds courage. Courage creates strength. Strength allows for wisdom. Wisdom brings change. And change is what we need!
Corona, like all obstacles, is neither good or evil. It simply is.
We can learn from it, be better because of it and start to make the changes now to prevent another worldwide pandemic or we can allow our anxiety and anger to have the last word. And learn nothing.
I’d rather experience change.
So, as sick as I am hearing about Corona, I’m going to keep listening.
I was introduced to Shaun T over a decade ago by my fitness freak brother. It was Christmas break and Allen had suggested we work out. I know, what a dick. The next thing I knew he had put on a DVD. “This ain’t no sweatin to the oldies,” his face seemed to say. The next thing I knew we were going. And I mean, GOING. “Cmon yall, let’s goooooooooo,” 11 min later I was drenched in sweat and deeply regretting the biscuits and gravy I had scarfed down hrs before. “That was some crazy shit. Burp.” “Haha, it’s called Insanity,” Allen replied. “And that was just the warmup.” I’ll never forget the horror I felt. We still had 30 min left. I stumbled and cursed my way through the rest of the DVD and made a mental note never to workout with my dumb brother again.
Shaun T is the only person I know that can instill disdain and adoration in the same lack of breath. As much as I truly hated the workout, when I returned home, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I assumed playing sports my entire life had given me a good baseline of fitness. Nope. Insanity revealed I was unbalanced, inflexible, and moved with the clunky grace of an inebriated uncle. Weeks passed before I finally broke down and bought the DVD set. It was a 90-day challenge and was considered the hardest workout ever put on disc. When the discs arrived I eagerly ripped open the package nervously excited to get started.
I’ll never forget my first workout. If you were a Christian fly on the wall, you would have been mortified. I had conscientiously objected to dropping f-bombs my entire life but Shaun had his finger pressed on the button. When the workout ended, I collapsed in a pool of my own sweat and poor life choices. The ceiling spun. I was certain this is what death felt like. Eventually, I got up off the floor. “How was it?” Angie asked, looking into my pale face. “I think I over-did it.” I managed to say. “You look like death,” she said. She wasn’t wrong. I felt like death. I went upstairs and collapsed on the bed. Covered in a glaze of shame and self-loathing.
And yet… I woke up the next morning, put on my shoes and went back down to the garage. Armed with some extra sugar this time, I looked death back in the face. This time I didn’t blink. By the end of the first week, I was no longer convinced I would die of a heart-attack mid-workout. Two weeks in, I no longer dreaded the next day’s workout. A month in, I began to discover a movement and flexibility I never knew I had. 2 months in, I was keeping up with Shaun T. Well, sorta. 3 months in, I had finished. Completed the workout. In the final month, the workouts increase to 60 min. Considering I couldn’t make it through the 11-minute warm-up when I started, this was some accomplishment. I had survived Insanity! Not only had I survived, I never felt stronger. Quicker. More balanced or more flexible. My mental well being was at an all-time high. I had completed the hardest workout ever put to DVD and felt fucking amazing. It would become my winter tradition for years to come. Until I got busy with Lush.
Two weeks ago, I was given the all-clear by my physiotherapist, to get back to it. It, being, high-intensity exercise. I had taken the winter off after dislocating my shoulder at the top of Mount Prevost. For the past few years, I had worked out with the great Simon Young at Monkey Bar Gym but recently decided to take a break and return to an old flame. 🙂
A lot has changed in the last 5 years, most notably, Shaun T is now on Demand. Which is great. Because my DVD’s are scratched and what even is a DVD player? Shaun T has been busy since the last time I saw him. He’s even more Insane now. But I’ve always been partial to his original insanity. So 2 weeks ago I started back up!! I’ve done 12 workouts in the past 14 days. Every day but Saturdays. Thanks to Monkey Bar, I didn’t feel like death this time. And my muscles remembered. And I remembered… what it feels like to get up at 530 every morning and start my day with Shaun T.
His Insanity keeps me sane.
I’ve since convinced my good friend Maeve! And Angie’s been enjoying Beachbody too. There’s thousands of workouts on there and they aren’t all Insane. If you can’t get to the gym, let the gym come to you. Movement is the cure to everything.
I’ve been waiting 4 years for this moment. Happy Leap Year Everyone!!!! 🙂 Woo!! Woo!!
With that bit of silliness out of the way, you now have my permission to return to whatever you were not doing. But before you go… here’s why a leap year actually exists.
You were too lazy to click the link. It’s ok, I got you.
Leap years exist because our calendar is actually 365 AND a quarter days long. To make life simpler, someone said..” I mean… let’s just call it 365.” So we did. Which means there are 6 hours every year that we simply don’t recognize. For those “seize the day” types, this revelation is likely to be met with pained regret. I feel you. For others, it may bring relief. Life’s tough enough without an extra 6 hrs to contend with. Although time is relative, our experience of it is not.
Btw, a quick shout out to those
lucky souls who were born on February 29th! This is a big day for you! I say make it count. You’ve waited years for this.
As for the rest of us…how can we make up for this lost time?
As fun as it is to jump out of an airplane, our leap doesn’t need to be that dramatic. The Leaping Connection means we don’t stand still or let time pass us by. We get busy living! Lest we get busy dying.
I say we take 6 hrs this weekend and do that thing or things we’ve been meaning to get to but just never had the time.
Re-connect with that friend.
Make amends for real this time.
Turn off the phone.
Hike to the top.
Get lost in a book.
Start writing that book.
Launch that business.
Play with your kids.
Go to the farmers market, stock up on local goodness and cook a feast tonight.
Work in your yard.
Help someone who needs it.
Lock eyes with a homeless person.
We are living in the best time.
Let’s recapture it.
I’m 8 years old and I’m in love with a Princess. As she stares into the camera pleading for Bastian to save her, I stare back. Those lips. She’s literally perfect. As her palace begins to crumble, I feel her growing panic like it’s my own. It’s only a movie. It’s not real. It’s only a movie. She screams out, “Call my name!” Bastian can’t imagine that one little boy could be that important. My heart hammers inside my chest. As the storm (and the music) climax, she looks into my eyes. “Bastian pleeeeeease. Save us!!” But I have to keep my feet on the ground. A boulder flies in and strikes, nearly tearing the palace in half. COME ON BASTIAN!!!! – It’s now me that’s screaming – WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!!! I’m a nervous wreck. I feel sick. All of sudden Bastian stands up. “All right, I’ll do it, I’ll save you. I will do what I dream!” Throwing off his blanket, Bastian runs toward the storm and with rain thundering all around, he leans out the window and screams into the night. The screen turns to black.
Movies speak to me more powerfully than anything else As an eight-year-old boy, I was convinced the Princess was talking to me. In love with me. While delivering humanity’s most important message. Although completely lost on me at the time, this never-ending truth remains more relevant than ever before. Without fantasy and the ability to create new stories, we become overwhelmed by The Nothing. The Darkness. The Emptiness of human existence. And our lives turn to black. And white.
Joseph Campbell reminded us that myths exist, “to transform our consciousness.” I couldn’t agree more. Stories have always been our best method for sharing Truth. From tales spoken around the fire to cave paintings to Renaissance paintings to the printed page and now with the silver screen, we have always communicated our best truths through fiction. When we empathize with a character, we are able to connect and feel their pain. Although we know they aren’t real, we find ourselves thinking about them. Feeling for them. Living better lives because of them. Tony Soprano. Don Draper. Walter White. Daenerys Targaryen. These great characters live long after their series isn’t renewed because, through their flawed lives, they show us how to live and most importantly, how not to live.
Tonight’s Oscars celebrate those stories that stood out among the rest (as voted on by the Academy). 1917. Marriage Story. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Little Women. Parasite. The best stories don’t tell us what to do or who to be. They show us. Through inspired writing, direction, acting, cinematography, editing, and lighting, we are invited to enter a world. Join with a life. Look in the mirror. When we do, we see a reflection of ourselves and we grimace. And laugh. And cry. We are reminded of our imperfections and are inspired to do better. Live better. Be better.
When this transformation of consciousness occurs, a beautiful thing happens. People begin to enter our world. Join with our life. Use us as a mirror. And this never-ending shared story of humanity continues.
Long after the credits roll.
Today is February 6. Unless you’re shirtless in sunny Chile, like my annoying podcast partner Andrew Langford, you are likely smack dab in the middle of the sludge, drudge, and darkness of your local winter. For many, this is their least favorite time of year and the current hysteria surrounding the pandemic and Presidential acquittal can’t be helping. Having fallen victim to this Seasonal Sadness in the past, I thought I’d check in with all of you and see how you’re doing? If you’re struggling, I’ve been there.
Roughly 10 years ago today, I was lying in my pajamas on our living room couch. Again. It was the middle of the day. I was wrapped in a blanket. A casual observer may have assumed I had just been rescued from an Arctic expedition gone awry but no, I was simply feeling blue. My seasonal business had gone dark and its effect was strong that winter. Plus I was broke. The tears that flowed from my face that day were not tears of despair but tears of empathy, for Rudy, who had just found out he wouldn’t be playing football for Notre Dame. “He’s worked so hard for this,” I blubbered through my tears. “The poor guy just can’t catch a break.” I know how you feel Rudy. I feel you!!!
It was at this moment, stuck in my snot and weird tears that I heard something behind me. I clicked pause, craned my neck around and caught the face of my wife. It was a look I will never forget. She had seen this movie before. Recognizing my fragile situation, Angie chose her words carefully. “How’s it going there? What’s your plan?” My plan? Well, I thought I’d watch Hoosiers next…
What I actually said, while wiping my eyes, was, “it’s surprising how emotional this movie is, apparently, it’s the #1 movie men cry in.” Silence. Her look had now changed to fear. Feeling her growing concern I launched into an angry defensive tirade. “I’m a seasonal business, of course, we’re slow right now!! I can’t just manufacture work out of thin air!! I’d love to see you run this business. What am I supposed to do?? Pretend I have a job??”
“You do have a job.”
I JUST SAID WE ARE A SEASONAL BUSINESS!!! STOP ACTING LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!!! YOU KNOW NOTHINGGGGGG!!! That’s when her face changed to something else. And she walked away. Leaving me alone in my snotty pajamas.
As I laid there, I saw myself for the person I had become. A sad sack crying over Rudy in the middle of the day. At that moment, my fear soaked defensive rage turned to shame. And deep regret. Angie was right. She had come to me in courage knowing this is likely how I would react. And I hadn’t disappointed.
It turns out, this is what we do when we’re scared and don’t know what to do. We lash out. We rage. We hurt the ones we love. We also watch Rudy in the middle of the day while blaming the weather for our troubles.
As my fear and rage dissipated, I knew I had become a victim of my circumstances. I threw off my blanky and decided I would never be a victim again. The next day I set my alarm. Got up early. And worked like I had a job to do. Wouldn’t you know it, the phone began to ring and day-time TV, SAD and self-loathing quickly became a thing of the past.
We have 2 choices. We can be a victim in need of rescuing or the one who does the rescuing. We can believe our dis-order is external and wait for the weather to change or we can do the hard work internally and become an agent of change. This is called the Hero’s journey. As humans, it is the journey we all must take. When we do, we save ourselves. And by saving ourselves, we save the day.
Just like Rudy.
Last night as I was laying in a cheap Seattle hotel room, I was a ball of restless nerves. After a tiring day of flying across the country, all flights to the Island had been canceled – thanks to an adorable snowstorm. My frugal hotel had obviously saved loads of money by purchasing giant showerheads rather than investing in soundproofing so, at 9pm, I was thrust away from my first deep sleep in 24 hrs by the people above me who were, get this, walking around their hotel room!!! I remember feeling so frustrated I actually considered calling the front desk and demanding they tell my *#*#*% neighbors to stop moving. It was a perfectly reasonable request at the time but I’m glad I left the phone alone. That said, I didn’t leave the matter alone and my frustration and anxiety won out. I would toss and turn for the next 4 hrs before finally drifting off at 145am only to be rudely awakened 3 hrs later by my selfish alarm clock. Since then, my flight has been delayed twice and at the time of this writing, I’m sitting in an airport complaining to you rather than sitting at home, complaining to my wife. Again.
Stress, challenge, and unplanned obstacles are coming whether we like it or not. We can dread them, try to avoid them, freak out when they arrive or my personal favorite -stay awake and try and control them. Or, we can see them as training for when the real shit hits the fan.
Resilience is confidence that we can handle it. Whatever “it” is. Unfortunately, the only way to gain this resilience is to go through shit. While no one is a fan of shit, the shit will hit the fan. If not today, tomorrow. When we lay awake at night and stress about the inevitable shit hitting the inevitable fan, we experience frustration. And anxiety. That’s right, we pre-fret. It sounds insane but we’re pros at it. I think I can speak for all of us when I say, fretting sucks. It sucks to experience and it really sucks as a strategy to try and deal with our shitty life 🙂 If only there was a better way?
It turns out this is the better way.
So.. next time your:
is canceled… Instead of becoming a ball of frustration and nerves, see this set back as resilience training and wrap your sweaty palms around it. Anxiety hates this awkward embrace and it will be out of there before you can say, “You incomplete me.” I eventually performed this hug last night and wouldn’t you know it, I fell right asleep. If only I had practiced what I often preach, earlier.
Life is pain, says Wesley.
True. But that doesn’t mean it has to hurt.