In my office there are two framed prints that hang on one wall. The first says Breathe, Breathe, Breathe, written in Asian-inspired font and the second says Exhale. When I bought them years ago I thought they made the perfect set. Until this morning, that is, when I was struck by a thought. Isn’t breathing, by its very definition, inhaling and exhaling? Why the need for two separate prints?
And then I laughed because if anyone needs to be reminded to exhale it’s me. My life is like one big inhale: I just keep taking things in and in and in, bearing down, gritting my teeth, thinking things like, “if it’s to be it’s up to me!” (Seriously. It takes everything I have to stop myself from having it engraved on a coffee mug.)
My chiropractor was doing some deep tissue work on me the other day and asked if the pain level was ok. I replied, “I’m fine, I can take it.” He said, “I don’t want you to ‘take it,’ I want you to let it go.” I exhaled and realized I’d been holding my breath. I thought, hmmm…I’m not so good at letting things go. I tend to view life as a big ocean of activity. I hold my breath, dive in, and rarely come up for air.
But I’m learning to let go. My business coach gave me an assignment last week: create a yes/no list. Work I would say yes to and work I would turn down. I had to clarify that I heard her right. Turn down work? Are you serious? “Have you written the book yet?” she asked.
Ok fine, I get it. I can’t do everything.
The process of breathing can teach us a lot about the process of letting go. As we inhale, oxygen is brought into the lungs where red blood cells are waiting, full of old carbon dioxide that the body’s cells have made. As they accept the oxygen, they release the carbon dioxide and it’s expelled back out into the environment.
That powerful exchange is a great metaphor for a balanced life. To get the good stuff you’ve got to let go of the bad stuff. If you don’t, you’ll literally suffocate to death. So Breathe, Breathe, Breathe, but don’t forget to Exhale.