Thursday, January 04, 2018

One Word 365: Breathe

For the past four years, I've made it part of my New Year's observance to participate in One Word 365. The premise is that, rather than making a list of resolutions that you won't keep anyway, you just choose a single word to live by for the entire year. I have found this to be more of a rewarding exercise than not, so I plan to continue it this year.

For 2017, I chose the word Engage:
Since late in the evening on November 8th, I have been wondering what I can do and who I can be in this new moment my country finds itself in. Many of my friends are scared, as am I, about what might become of civil liberties, government assistance programs on which many rely, and the overall cultural climate in which those with hateful beliefs toward minorities have felt emboldened and empowered.
Also since that evening, social media for me has been more of a chore that has left me tired and heartbroken. Many use these platforms to vent their frustrations and fears, and while I have been appreciative of those who share information and links to ways to get involved, I'm honestly trying to block out the other stuff while wondering: What can I really do, other than add to the digital despair? Surely there is something besides (and more effective than) saying the same thing many others are saying on Facebook and Twitter.
And there is. There are truth-telling media outlets that need support, there are assistance agencies that need funding, there are minority organizations and individuals that need to hear loving words, there are Congressional representatives who need to hear their constituents' opinions, there is art and writing that needs to be created, and there are disciples who need to be cultivated.
But for any of that to happen, I need to engage. I need to write the note, make the call, have the conversation, fill out the donation form, walk into the building, create the art, and preach the gospel. Maybe I can do one or two of those with a tweet, but to me that is mostly screaming into the abyss.
I have to say that I was conscious of and dedicated to this word in one form or another every single day of the year, the most since I began this One Word exercise. I called Congresspeople, I supported, I showed up to rallies and vigils. I did a lot of stuff that was brand new to me, and over time I learned how better to do it and became more comfortable and confident.

Now that my time using that word has ended, I am conscious of the need to continue observing it in some form. The work is far from over, and I can't just tag out and move on to something else. So I will continue engaging, having learned something of how to do it, and hoping to learn more this coming year.

In addition to engaging, I'll continue to be husband, father, and pastor. Late last year I started taking karate. I have a book to finish. I'm going to keep blogging. My church has a lot of special activities coming up this year.

So for 2018, I've chosen the word Breathe.

At first I thought about the word Rest, but to me that seemed too obvious and the sort of word that tons of other people have also probably chosen. I wanted something that conveyed a similar idea but with more of an intentional and spiritual connotation.

I have found over the years that when I need to give myself a timeout to calm myself down in the midst of responsibilities and deadlines and heightened anxiety, one of the most effective practices I've observed is sitting and taking deep breaths for as long as it takes. When I'm kept up at night by any number of worries or past failures, slowing and deepening my breathing is what helps me settle my mind and body.

It's one thing to step back and recognize that the calendar has been a little too full lately. It's another to tend to your own inner health and allow yourself room to recover. This includes times when you consider yourself done for the day but your thoughts are still on what you think you should be doing or what you'll have to do tomorrow.

On top of intentionally taking time to be still and relax, I want to really be still and lay down the day's concerns, to be able to come at them fresh again later. This includes regularly asking questions like, "how important is this, really?" It includes intentionally relying on family and friends when things seem overwhelming. It includes letting go of what can't be fixed, retrieved, or controlled. It includes simple things like taking time off from social media or other things that I might view as relaxing but sometimes cause stress rather than relieve it.

So I want to remember to breathe. It'll help me be more effective at the other stuff.