It hasn’t been the Christmas holiday I thought I had planned because we haven’t done any of the things we thought we might do. The weather simply hasn’t been up to it; days as damp and dreary as a dishcloth or too cold to linger have not been the encourager of day-trips out. I also planned to get back to drawing and other creative tasks, not to mention a pile of “must reads” to plough though. I had some big decisions to make too; and considering them was something I planned to do over the break. Instead, we’ve been getting up and following our urges moment to moment; often “failing” to do what we set out to do and maybe choosing what seems like the lazier alternative. Yet, as we take stock, we both agree it was what we needed; which was to batten down the hatches and spend lazy time indoors around the fireside with the internet and knitting and music or films. It was the breather our entire systems called for at the end of the year and before a new one which promises to be, well, different and certainly busy. Sometimes a long slow breath is the very best therapy our human body most ardently calls for.
Which brings me to another realisation. I’ve been feeling much better, stronger, in less pain, sturdier in my constitution, quicker to recover from exertion, more (dare I say it) “normal” in my health. It might be because I broke the miserable fast set in motion by tests whose results I now question and started to eat foods I really wanted to eat. It might be because we carried out some energetic cleansing of our home (more on that in another post). But…it occurred to me…it might also be because of the fact I have taken up playing the Irish whistle, which I adore and, having upgraded to a new instrument for Christmas, have been playing every day for an hour or more. One thing this new whistle demands of me, being a beautiful, shiny “pro” model instead of its plastic precursor, is an whole lot of breath. To make a sound at all I need so much more breath, and from a deeper place, than I’ve had to muster before. To get to the end of a melody, I need more breath, more economically delivered. To get to that higher octave…oh so much more breath than ever. So, what has this got to do with my health?
Well, I realised a long time ago that one of my big issues was breath. Poor breath, so shallow that it’s hardly there, can lead to mitochondrial malfunction and thus to anaerobic behaviour at the cellular level, thus to excess lactic acid that can’t easily be shifted from the tissues of the body and then oh-so much pain doing ordinary things. It can build up so much that you are always just a millimeter away from a the kind of cramps a runner might experience…just from “over-exerting” in the most ordinary ways, such as standing up or even from energy-expenditure triggered at the unseen level by environmental provocation such as EMFs or, indeed, anything that excites a cellular reaction. In other words, you can cramp up like a marathon runner from apparently doing nothing at all. I was able to tie this in with how self-consciousness over “noisy breathing” made fun of by classmates caused me to train myself to breathe minisculy when I was at school so that, hopefully, people would stop noticing I breathed at all. It also tied in with how my first chronic pains kicked-in as an adolescent who would double-over in agonising cramps before I reached even the first quarter lap in school sports lessons. I pieced all this together quite a while ago but, without going to see an actual breathing expert to retrain myself how to breathe from scratch, I didn’t really know how to remedy it. Years of meditation and yoga still left my breathing patterns wanting (I’ve always struggled hugely with the long slow breath required) and, I suspect, my cells crying out for air. So, has playing my new whistle started to achieve for me what all these things failed to do, which is to encourage me to take the kind of breaths appropriate for life…or, at least for an hour or so a day?
When I hit upon this theory, it had the ring of such truth about it that I sat up and took notice; so, will continue to observe…and to practice my music daily. The fact that I really want to do this, in fact that I love to do it, really helps as the incentive. It makes me laugh at the end of a year in which I identified that I am so predominantly vata…a wind constitution; and then a wind instrument came to my rescue. You couldn’t make it up!
In another way, the whole of 2017 has been like taking one giant breather. Its been a monumentally powerful year and yet I’ve got almost nothing tangible to show for it. I really did take a whole year off from painting…I drop my own jaw in mock horror as I admit this since its true. After all, “a painter” is what I am and yet I just don’t feel it anymore; am really not sure what I am, to be honest. Yet somehow I seem to have managed to hold steady on such a wobbly line of direction with more curiosity than panic; which is one of the least tangible yet significant achievements of my year. In other words, allowing “what I am” to soften and almost dissolve away completely without actually going to pieces myself feels monumental and “new”. Walking so close to the edge of the precipice can trigger an existential crisis but, equally, a total rebirth and I’m with the latter.
Not one single painting has been sold in that year either; as though, as soon as I took my energy out of the act, my artworks became invisible (though that isn’t quite accurate as they got “put in the basket” dozens of times on various websites yet never taken through to completion). I’ve observed the converse result to this many times over the years. In other words, when I really decide I want to sell my work, I usually receive an enquiry “out of nowhere” within a few days (even hours, on occasion) which just shows how we can manifest what we want when we are quite clear in our demands. In 2017, it’s as though I pulled my energy out of painting so thoroughly that it served as an invisibility blanket on my business; no one even contacted me to say “Hey, Helen, I haven’t seen any new artworks lately; not even a newsletter or exhibition…what happened?” Part of me felt a little sad at this, like no one noticed or cared but, really, I know that it was me that had ceased to care for this role or activity; I withdrew the energy from it so that I had ample space to explore what I really want to do with my time, without pressure or expectation. As I turn the corner into the new year, I still have no real clue what that thing is. Though fabric design and photography have been taking up some of my time, they don’t feel excactly like “it” and, though writing is a huge part of my life, I don’t want to make it into the only thing that I do. Whatever “it” is, I would rather take the time to get there than force it out with my mind. You could say, I’m breathing it full of life, biding my time, as you would breathe through a long labour, knowing the birthing process will be over when it is and not a moment sooner.
So, do I feel like an abject failure at the end of such a year, that I let anyone down, or like I wasted so much time or could have done better? No, not really. It was the very step-back and breather I needed; and there are many more “things” that I have achieved that feel far more precious to me, though less tangible or easy to describe. One is that, exactly as described at the mitochondrial level, when we take that long slow breath we step out of the pattern of over-reaction and become a whole lot more present to what is actually happening, as relevant to us, in each moment, along with the full spectrum of choices we have available. From that place, we take in our daily or even momentary options more calmly and choose from them consciously instead of reacting with some-sort of knee jerk reaction or entrained pattern driven by expectation or habit. The extended time spent living from such a place with my partner, without strict daily timetable, over the Christmas holiday, has really helped to embed and strengthen what feels like the new modus operandi that 2017 introduced. Now, as I take stock of the year, the degree of presence I carry forward into 2018 feels far more valuable to me than any more material accomplishment could ever have been, harder though it is to demonstrate to others. I suspect that fearlessly, unjudgementally, sampling this way of living whenever we can is how we get beyond an existence made artificially small by far too many outer benchmarks and start to live from a truly expansive and joyfully adventurous heart.
Wishing your all such a healthy, joyful and exploratory New Year!