Franciscan Spirit Blog

Breathing as Prayer

If our physical and emotional reactions help anchor us, then the Spirit within each of us is the fuel and the fire that enables us to face emotional pain. It gives us discipline to rise each morning and face grim circumstances.

It works from within, but it has immense influence over what we do, say, and allow ourselves to feel. If the body is our physical support structure, and our emotions are the gauge of how deeply we feel loss, pain, and comfort, then the Spirit is the glue that holds us together and allows us to be secure, even in the most precarious of times. It comes from the deepest part of ourselves, and it fuels the faith we need to muster more strength, courage, and creativity in crisis than we ever thought we were capable of.

Likewise, if these saints (truly they are saints) had thought of the consequences of seeing so much suffering and pain and only considered this, they might not have decided to render aid. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a real hazard of anyone entering into or already in a place where disaster has struck. Even journalists covering tragedies are at risk of this. But even knowing the terrible odds, the likelihood of negative impact on their own emotional health, these men and women, and others throughout history, still decided to act.

Why? The desire to help and the quality of compassion overpowered any rational reason to retreat. These qualities are not confined to people living in one geographic area or only connected with one ethnic group, race, or religious practice.

These traits flow from the Spirit, which we all possess. The more we recognize these traits within us, invite them forward, and use them, the stronger we will be, and the more positive changes we will be able to make before, during, and after a crisis—for ourselves and others. Of course, we have to dig through a lot of noise to get there. But once the Spirit is engaged and working, great things can happen!

Breath of Life

We cannot live more than mere minutes without breathing. Emotionally, breathing affords us personal space to take stock of situations and to help us sort through issues in order to make good decisions. It helps us cultivate good people in our lives and identify and avoid those who might do us harm of any kind. Spiritually, breathing is that space and time that we give to our conversation with God, to the quiet around and within us that breathes courage, insight, compassion, and truth into the deepest parts of our souls.

Through spiritual breathing, we better understand our place in the world, and our purpose, and we can develop wisdom to know how to inspire and help others. Breathing, then, within the context of spiritual resilience, is not only “the necessary” that St. Francis talks about, but it also helps us find what’s necessary—to do, think, feel, and become. Air and Life When we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide and nitric oxide, we are enabling an intricate process of balancing these gases, which our muscles and other parts of our bodies need to function.

Too much breathing or not enough upsets the process and causes problems ranging from high blood pressure to anxiety, heightened stress, and possibly stroke. Those who are breathing impaired have a special appreciation for this delicate balance.

Beneficial or deep breathing can help quell feelings of anxiety and stress, maintain our focus, and enable us to meet physical and emotional challenges, much like an athlete does when competing.

Regular breathing is an activity of the autonomic nervous system, much like when our hearts beat or our eyes blink. We don’t think about it. We just do it. But sometimes, our breath is impacted by external or internal stress or other trauma (or even good news). As with other parts of the body, the breathing process is very sensitive to its place in the body-mind-emotion linkage. It can change in its own unique way when faced with a crisis, and this change, impacting the rate or volume of air in and out, can precipitate responses in other areas of the body, too.

So when the world is turned upside down—as it has been lately—remember to stop, close your eyes, say a quick prayer, and breathe.

Pause and Pray

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