I was hell-bent on achievement at a thriving law office when my kids were small, schlepping them to day care every morning, one hand on the stroller, another on a bag of diapers, as I raced across town to get to my desk in time.
I practically raced through the hallways on my way to meetings. (A co-worker said once that I looked like I was on roller-skates.)
Remember the children’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare?
I can imagine that if we happened to move story time from my kids’ daycare into a meeting at the law office boardroom, we would all have been completely in agreement that the sweet, dull, meandering tortoise most definitely did not deserve to win, since in our narrow world we really would have been rooting for the more driven hare.
If only I had known then that the real life-enhancing, life-changing skills come from the ones we develop on the inside.
And back then I so needed that kind of awareness in the office,
with my kids,
and also when the law partner asked me to attend an insurance conference where he was speaking. At that time he also mentioned that I was to prepare a short talk of my own.
That’s when I had my first panic attack.
From that point on I started to dwell on it, staying awake over it at night, and scribbling endless notes to myself on what I would say.
So the day arrives and somehow I show up.
The law partner looked over the audience, then turned to me and said, “and without taking away any more of her thunder I’d like to introduce you to…”
and that’s all I remember.
My co-worker told me that I stood up, politely smiled, said “thank you,” and walked off.
The physical component to my fear at that time was that the switch to my stress was thrown on and I had no idea how to turn it off.
My mind, accompanied by short shallow breaths when my boss told me I’d be standing up in front of a room full of corporate climbers, started a wave of stress hormones pouring into my bloodstream that kept me paralyzed.
There is a huge nerve in the body that makes this happen—it’s responsible for driving (or reigning in) the “fight or flight” sensation.
The Vagus nerve, which is Latin for “wandering,” controls the autonomic nervous system and starts at the brain stem and runs through the neck, into the larynx and chest, and finishes up in the colon.
Its nerve endings stretch outward like hundreds of fingers, impacting the entire body by what the brain tells it: stay calm or run for your life.
Because this nerve is so large and so pervasive it can do amazing functions–like help tame and regulate the heartbeat and improve immune function—and it does this when we learn to ease our minds.
And we can start with the careful attention to the breath–especially when its paired with a long, slow exhale.
So the most resourceful thing I could have done for myself back then was to just let go of the thought (for a moment) while I took some deep breaths,
filling the lungs from the bottom up,
loosening the tightness around the belly,
and slowly, cumulatively, I would have begun the building of restful resources from within.
Like the tortoise from the fable, the breath’s restful sweet nature needs time and cultivation in order to feel its real impact.
Begin to love it and it will eventually get you to the finish line.
But the difference: you will be taking in all the nice scenery of your life along the way, feeling much better and ending up much healthier than the crazy rabbit.
(Btw, I was at my desk the next morning after I gave my shortest speech ever, vowing to find the nearest Toastmasters group.)
Learn more breath enhancing, life-affirming skills at the Chushin Center, Columbus, Ohio, details to follow soon!