Relearning how to Breathe

I’m holding my breath. 35, 36, 37. All the muscles in my body tighten, my lungs burn. 38, 39, 40. I breath.  Everything releases. I win.

            It’s a counting game.

 The plane lands in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The traffic light turns in 4, 3, 2, 1. I can hold my breath until 3, 2, 1. The clock on my phone changes in, 2, 1. 

            It’s fun.

The plane touches down just as I think 1, and everything feels right. First satisfaction, then ease. I take a deep breath. 

Sometimes, it’s not fun. 

             The plane lands on 2, and shock, then anger, then disappointment washes over me. 

            I don’t mess up often. After over a decade of the counting game, I have a pretty good sense of when the clock is going to change. I’ve trained my lungs to hold more air and my legs to run more miles. 

            That’s another part of the game – running. It started with 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5 miles. Not 2.5, definitely not 3.75, and never 4.87. Whole numbers matter. 

            I started the game at of boredome. Could I teach myself the clean, even, steady, rhythm of time? Could I internalize the second, the minute, the mile? It became a tool to understand the world, and slowly, it became a tool to control it. I could hold my breath for 40 seconds. I could run for 7 miles. The boundary between guessing when the plane would land and feeling a power to land it became murky.

            It’s fun, sometimes. It’s just a game between me and the world, sometimes. 

            Sometimes, I control the world. Sometimes, the world controls me. 

            The plane lands on 2, my lungs give out on 3, I roll my ankle on 4. 

It can be debilitating. My lungs burn, my heart pulses, I can’t catch my breath. There’s no reverse game. The opposite is living free from these rules. Authentic life. 

Once you start thinking about your breath, you forget how to breath. 

Breath in on one, out on two. 

That’s what life is like once you learn the game. You forget how to run until you don’t want to run anymore, how to sit at a red light without seconds blaring through your head. 

 3, 2, 1, go. 

We all do it to an extent – think we have more control over the world than we actually do. We try to shape it, shift it, find ways to defy what it tells us is possible. That’s how we progress. But sometimes, we also need to let go, to stop counting seconds, minutes, and miles. 

Last year, I took a class on Tolstoy. My professor suggested that we let War and Peacewash over us. He didn’t mean that we shouldn’t pay attention to the prose or engage with the plot. He meant that we sit with Tolstoy’s words, letting them percolate in our minds, that we trust our instincts, our ability to grasp meaning. 

I want to learn how to live like I learned to read Tolstoy. The light will change, the plane will land, my breath will flow, I will run, and then I will stop running.