The first time I discovered that my breath might be key to managing my anxiety, I was really fucking mad.
I do that already. All the time. Automatically in fact. The idea that something so basic and constant could provide relief for a condition I considered so volatile and overwhelming was almost…insulting. Don’t you think I would’ve worked that out on my own by now?
And yet, there I was. Fritzin’ out my mind. Uneasy about nothing & everything all at once. Wringing hands in the pit of my stomach. Pause. Eyes closed. Attention drawn inward.
Breathing in. 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.
Breathing out. 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.
After a few more of these, something weird happened. Almost like an invisible balm was rubbed somewhere on the most nervous parts of me. And for the moment it brought calm. But not for long. That calm was quickly replaced by embarrassment.
How can breathing be the solution? It’s too easy; too natural – to quell something so complex and unrelenting? It made me feel dumb. And it made my anxiety feel dumb too, and I didn’t like that.
In the following years after this experience, I’ve curiously prodded my strange emotional reactions to it. I mean, fancy being upset when you discover something free, easy and cheap could be a helpful solution to an ongoing problem?
Something I discovered about myself is this need to idolise complexity. I am very quick to discount the simple, easy & accessible. In high-school, I remember feeling like getting married and having a family was literally the most basic and elementary path to life satisfaction – it was what lemmings did, and I wanted more than that. This pattern of thinking was destructive, as it led me to exalt my anxiety, and revere my depression as factors that gave me depth. It didn’t inspire me to go on to do great work or create great things – in fact, it made me resist creating because nothing I produced could ever be profound enough. It shut me off from appreciating the small, simple and wonderful things in life – believing them to be reserved for individuals less ‘enlightened’ than myself – when it turned out that I was the one who truly needed to get woke.
This is something that I’m still teaching myself to un-learn. Confucius served up a zinger when he said “life is simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” We can spend our whole lives searching for meaning, analysing our own and other people’s thoughts, emotions and behaviours, thinking for so long about so many things that seem so important. It’s still pretty much what I do 95% of my waking life. But now, in the other 5%, I’m forcing myself to breathe.