Change is never easy. As many of you know, I have been dealing with loss on several levels lately. After the passing of my father, my next challenge was adjusting to being single. During this period of adjustment, I have had to get used to not having my canine companion, too. There were days when I just didn't think I could survive the loneliness and sadness.
Just like anyone else, I find that I am growing through my trials. My confidence has been slightly shaken, and sometimes I felt so uncertain, but overall, there has been a sense of calm, and I know that is a good sign.
Sunday, after my son left my house, I knew I was looking at a long two weeks of SOLITUDE. I am trying so hard to put a positive spin on my solitary stretches of time. It's hard not to be sarcastic, and call them my "solitary confinement." Even putting that negative, wry humor thought out there is not conducive to having a positive outlook. I need to reconsider my thinking patterns because thoughts become actions, and actions become habits.
Through my writer's group, My 500 Words, I have become familiar with a term used by the creator of the group, Jeff Goins. He would describe what I'm going through as an "in-between" time. I know that if I can be an observer, as well as a participant, I stand to gain so much more from this lull in my life.
There have been days; no, that is too dramatic; there have been MOMENTS, when I could feel the anxiety climbing up the back of my throat. My heart would race, and the fear I felt would grow. Swallowing hard to keep those feelings at bay, I would remind myself to breathe. These are the moments that I am discovering that I am stronger than I knew. I am learning that although I am alone, being with myself is not a worst-case scenario. There are much worse things than being alone, but I believe the lessons I'm learning would help many of us with the trials life brings our way, whether the trial is sickness, injury, or the death of a loved one.
How many times have I wished for this very experience that is now mine? We all have those fleeting wishes when life feels overwhelming with a swirling amount of activity, and people, and tasks; those times when we wish we could withdraw from the commotion long enough to catch our breath, and feel a sense of calm.
As a teacher, who was also a working wife and mother, I was intimately familiar with those overly busy moments when I felt torn in too many directions. The demands of a classroom full of children, three children of my own, and a husband seemed at times just too much. I felt like a fish tossed ashore, gasping for oxygen that was not available.
At times like that, I had to pause. Quitting wasn't an option, of that I was painfully aware. I couldn't just walk out of my classroom, or out of my home when I felt overwhelmed. I needed to create a calm space in my thoughts so that I could deal with the present moment. For me, the most effective tool I always have at my disposal is focusing on my breath. Usually three deep, cleansing breaths brings me to a peaceful place so that I can think clearly, prioritize what needs to be done, and focus on the people around me.
In the past, I have used the three breath technique to help others besides myself. I've shared it with my own children, and with my students. Before wrestling matches, before end-of-level testing, before any situation that could be stressful, I've reminded the kids to breathe slowly, allowing their bodies to return to a more relaxed state so they can focus.
Ironically, I realize that there have been times when I have wished for this very experience I am having. ("Be careful what you wish for, indeed.) I am retired. My days are my own. There is plenty of time for contemplation, reflection, and study. I have no excuse now for not exercising, or doing the things I love. There is so much TIME available to me now, and I need to be grateful to have this life with which I've been blessed.
"What's the problem?" you may be wondering. Here's the thing; I find that I am having the same reaction to my solitude as I had when I was caught up in the whirlwind of 35 children clamoring for my attention. Yes, panic sets in when I am faced with the silence of my own company. I feel the anxiety start in my belly, and rise up to the back of my mouth. My heart begins to race, and my breathing becomes shallow. My reaction to being alone is a negative one every time I begin to lose my perspective. As soon as my mind feels fearful, and the word loneliness dares to rear its ugly head, I feel anxiety take its grip on me.
Rather than endure that feeling, I have been trying to outrun it these last couple of months. Whenever I felt overcome by the fear, I would lace up my hiking shoes, and try to escape the feeling that I associated with the empty house. The longer I hiked, the less time I would have to spend alone with my thoughts at home. I have been running away from a situation, rather than progressing toward a resolution of my circumstances. Living in fear of the present moment is no way to live.
This week, I have forced myself not to hike away from the loneliness. I've realized that it's okay to admit that sometimes being alone DOES feel lonely. When my body's reaction to my emotional state is a negative one, I have made myself experience it. I've explored the feelings, looking for the lessons to be found in this current situation.
The main thing that seems to help is focusing on my breathing. Sometimes it takes more than three deep breaths when I feel overcome, but what I have learned is that a sense of calm can be restored. My head feels more clear, my body feels more calm, and the panic dissipates with each slow, deep breath.
Fear is a terrible thing. The busy teacher I was was just as afraid of losing control during the hectic times as the retired teacher is afraid of losing control during the lonely times. What I have learned is that I can survive anything as long as I keep breathing. My survival skill is no secret to anyone who understands the human body. When we provide oxygen to the lungs and blood, the body will keep going. It can endure far worse things than being alone in a comfortable home. When we restore our breathing to a calm rhythm, the rest of our body systems relax, and allow us to think clearly. Our spirt and our body become one with the restorative powers of our breath.
The next time you feel overwhelmed, try it. The toughest thing we have to endure is this moment in time. Sometimes that feels like more than we can bear, but it's do-able. Take a moment right now, and take three slow breaths. Did you do it? Don't you feel better already?
I wish you well with whatever this day brings you. May you feel the peace available in the space you create for yourself as you take the time to observe your own breaths. Remember, as long as you're breathing, everything is going to be all right.