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Remember the Exhale

I write a lot about connection. True connection that nourishes us: our bodies, our hearts, as well as our relationship with the earth. A big part of that piece of connection is slowing down. Something that is extremely difficult to do for many of us. Here I want to explore the importance of the cycle of expansion and contraction, and the importance for us as a culture to remember the “exhale,” the idea of contraction, of resting.

The dominant paradigm concerns itself with moving forward at all cost. Production and growth are the "all-important ones." And everything else deemed insignificant. What about our physical health? Our mental and spiritual well-being? Time for us to enjoy the beauty of life? The sustainability of the Earth’s functions? The quality of our air and water? All of these fall to the wayside in our endless pursuit of MORE.

I’m reading a book right now called “Sabbath,” by Wayne Muller. It is a book that offers the spiritual remembrance of the importance of rest. In many religions and cultures around the world, a Sabbath, or period of rest, is both integral and crucial to the happiness and peace of a people. It is in fact equally as important as the periods of doing.

Built into these teachings is the spiritual truth of life on Earth: that everything moves in cycles; that there is a season for everything; that in order to inhale we must first exhale. Consider the greater cycle of the seasons: the end of Summer, through Autumn and early Winter being the exhale, late Winter, Spring, and early Summer being the inhale. And there’s also the lunar cycle, the dance of the light of the moon guiding much of life here on earth. The brilliance of the shining moon that enlivens life after dark, the quietude of the starry dark-mooned nights. There is our daily circadian rhythm. There is our breath. If we constantly move in a linear inhale, we will run out of life-force. Our bodies will not repair themselves. Our souls will ache knowing there is more to life. And we will actually become less and less “effective” at our heart’s work.

Muller states, “when we know the seasons of things we can feel their timing, their readiness. There is less pushing more waiting to see what is necessary…When we live without listening to the timing of things—when we live and work in twenty-four-hour shifts without rest—we are on war time, mobilized for battle…but remember: No living thing lives like this…To surrender to the rhythms of seasons and flowerings and dormancies is to savor the secret of life itself.”

Surrendering to the seasons and flowerings and dormancies of life. Savoring the secret of life itself. Can you feel how much your body craves this as you read these words? There is a lost longing of the body. There is a buried knowing. Giving yourself the spaciousness, the exhalation, and the rest will begin to recover these forgotten pieces.

Sabbath can look like many things. It can be three deep breaths before you walk into a crowded room or a meeting. It can be the moment of lighting a candle before a shared meal with your family or friends. It can be an entire day without electronics or work. They key is to make it intentional. Make it worthwhile. Rest, true rest, can only happen when all of you is on board. There’s a significant difference between eating a meal slowly, in silence, savoring every bite, feeling how it is nourishing you, versus eating that same meal while thinking the whole time about all that needs to be done, or worrying about an interaction you had with a specific person. If you are resting, rest. If you are working, work. But allow there to be a distinction, and allow the rest to truly be restful. You will be much more effective and productive when you move into the inhale again if you’ve allowed yourself to finish exhaling.

I invite you to experiment bringing this idea of the exhale into your days and weeks. Practice infusing moments in your day with intentional rest. And begin to cultivate a weekly engagement with a larger exhale, perhaps on a weekend day.

What would that look like for you?

Can you imagine a life that feels both more spacious/restful and productive?

Can you dream up some specific practices that can invoke pause, breath, and rest throughout your day?

Can you imagine a half or full day that involves simply enjoying and delighting in life with yourself, your friends, or your family?

What does an exhale mean for you?

When we are truly rested we have more motivation, drive, and overall “aliveness.” Then, Muller reasons, “when we go forth to heal the wounds of our world, whatever we build, create, craft, or serve will have the wisdom of rest in it.” I love this idea of the “wisdom of rest.” It is surly a wisdom that many of us could learn from.

And as those of us who wish to be impactful, to be change-makers, to be healers, artists, activists or inspirational people, remember this:

“The world aches for the generosity of a well-rested people.” - Muller

I look forward to hearing from you how this practice of Sabbath goes!

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