2019’s Word: Breathe

I spent much of my downtime this week going through the 2019 iteration of Susannah Conway’s Unravel Your Year. One of the exercises in the workbook encourages you to select a one-word theme for the year to come. I was surprised this time by how quickly the word came to me.

Breathing is inherently, necessarily balanced. It is fundamental to life, an ineluctable aspect of being embodied. Breath focus is where many meditation practices start. Its rhythm guides all of our physical actions and interacts with our emotions in a complex cause and effect cycle.

2018 included a lot of interesting things, but the overall feel of the year for me was one of frustrating stasis, of suspension, of waiting for things out of my control. I was very busy, but the results were not often what I might have hoped. My intention for 2019, therefore, is to meet this feeling of suspension where it lives, the space between the inhalation and the exhalation. Rather than filling each day with things to do, focusing on whether or not I’m using my time “productively,” worrying about whether I’m reaching those golden goals, I want to leave space for things to happen, to make sure that I am inhaling and not merely exhausting myself.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to go through a period where everything we see and read seems to lead us to something important. This holiday season has been one of these times, starting with the Coaching Cocktails retrospective in December. That encounter opened the conversation with myself: what would I like to make more space for? Nothing can grow without room in which to do so. Putting a task on a to-do list without allowing myself what I’ll need to accomplish it achieves nothing. I played with a work tool called Moving Motivators, which encouraged me to consider what really gets me going (curiosity currently has my top spot, if you’re wondering).

Next came my inbox reduction project over the holiday break, which reintroduced me to Hurry Slowly. I still haven’t caught up on the podcasts, but reading through the recommended links she sends out brought me into contact with more branches of this same conceptual tree — Tara Brach’s talk From Human Doing to Human Being, this Wired piece about the attention economy, and finally Jenny Odell’s magnificent how do to nothing, which may actually change my life.

I’ve had some useful realizations in the course of this inner conversation. Considering the activities that I might categorize as “inhaling” vs “exhaling,” I realized that my job is a null by this measure. It is not restorative, nor does it produce anything worthwhile — at this point. Perhaps now that I’m looking with a different perspective, I’ll find some way to improve that fit, or spend my efforts to search for something better more wisely (I’m thinking quite a bit about Open Space this week). I’ve trimmed my social media down. I’m trying to be more intentional about my online distractions, and to remind myself that they are not obligations. I don’t owe anyone access to my brain, not even Pokemon Go.

So this year, when that twitchy impatient impulse to do something hits, I’m going to try to breathe for a little bit, first.

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