“What will our children do in the morning if they do not see us fly?” -Rumi
Do you know what happens when we hold our breath? When we inhale, our diaphragm tightens and contracts as pressure builds in our expanding chest cavity. This sets our lungs up to suck air in through our nose and mouth on its path to our air sacs and eventually through an intricate system of transitions, oxygenated blood moves through our vessels into surrounding tissues. Inhaling is a process of contraction in order to expand.
Conversely, when we exhale, our diaphragm relaxes and lifts in our chest cavity. The muscles between our ribs also relax, contracting and pushing carbon dioxide-rich air out of our lungs, through our windpipe and finally out through our nose and mouth. Exhaling is a process of relaxing in order to contract.
We do this breathing thing 20,000-30,000 times a day and for many of us, it takes very little effort. When we hold our breath, our oxygen levels decrease and carbon dioxide accumulates in our blood and lungs. These rising levels of carbon dioxide signal the body to breathe. What happens when we don’t get the message? Increased levels of protein in the bloodstream may cause temporary brain damage. Coordination is compromised as lactic acid builds, heart rates slow while blood pressure soars, and so on and so forth.
This time last year, we were beginning our first year in the USA since leaving on our nomadic journey in 2013. The moment we stepped off the airplane in New York, I felt like I was moving in slow motion. Within minutes, my husband’s phone rang for the first time in more than five years, and we both stared at it like it was from outer space. People walked quickly, ate rapidly, drove with urgency, and spoke with purpose. I felt like I was out of breath in the first lap of a race. I didn’t know if I should grab the baton and jump in, hide, or simply observe as an outsider. Without even knowing it, I started writing lists, creating serious deadlines, and running errands. I was less patient with the kids as the competing priorities mounted. By the end of my first season in the USA, I found myself too busy to exercise or even shower. I felt like I was holding my breath.
Merriam-Webster defines industrious as “constantly, regularly, or habitually active or occupied.” What I was experiencing was the habitually active pace that was so familiar to me before we set out to explore the world. It struck me, even as early as arriving at the airport on U.S. soil, how industrious this country is.
I spent a great deal of time learning about immigration and talking to the kids about why our ancestors left Europe to settle in the United States. From 1836 to 1914, approximately 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States. Most of them came to make a better life for themselves and their families. They came to work in a land that was known for its limitless possibility and with so much opportunity, slowing down can be challenging.
I always knew that America was industrious but I have never felt it the way I have this year. As I explore many U.S. cities, I see remnants of factories from the Industrial Revolution and beyond, that are shells of their former glory, while sleek, high-tech villages create new urban landscapes. The business model has changed but people are no less industrious. It is amazing to be a part of layers of people “constantly, regularly, or habitually active or occupied.”
It is not that I didn’t see the industry or feel the industry in other countries, but in my experience, it was not the pulse of the countries where I spent the most time. Work was certainly not the nucleus that all other activity organized around. It was not better or worse but it felt like a different foundation upon which everything else was built. Given all the cultural overlap in our shrinking world, the values that shape nations can still be felt, if we stop long enough to experience them. I knew it was time to take a breath.
I felt like I inhaled the second we landed, contracting in order to expand and keep up, and then I held on for dear life. I held on while racing to Costco and the orthodontist, three kids in braces and school applications, standardized tests, and Thanksgiving dinners. Because I was waiting to exhale, I didn’t slow down enough to soak in the joyful moments. Holidays with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends and first dates, a thriving, creative adventurous school, and the same bed to sleep in every night are all things that bring me joy. Now, a year later, it is time to exhale and relax in order to contract.
When I take the time to exhale, even just long enough to turn inward from a place of gratitude momentarily, I break the cycle of “constantly, regularly, or habitually active or occupied.” For me the race is suffocating, kind of like holding my breath, and sometimes the only way to get air is to focus my breathing with a renewed sense of intention.
I think I am a better American now than I was before we left over six years ago. I have a renewed respect for the tangible possibility in the USA, but I also understand that being overly industrious was a bit of an addiction for me prior to leaving on this journey in 2013. I believe in meaningful work but not at the expense of slowing down enough to notice the gifts each day provides.
May our world always offer these differences and continue to teach us, through contrast, that there are many paths.
May I always inhale and exhale, pausing just long enough at the peaks and valleys of my aspirations to recognize that it is OK to hold on to something, but just not for too long …
As you know, when you are holding your breath, inspiration is impossible because the very definition of inspire is, “to excite, encourage, or breathe life into.” Livology is in a state of reinvention, now that we have caught our breath and things are flowing again. We hope you will stay tuned and take a deep intentional breath with us right now because simply paying attention to our breath, breathes life into everything that comes next. Inhale, exhale, feel the momentum …