An Abundance of Potions

Day 10 – Releasing the Pressure

Good morning to all 224 readers. The sun's out here in Detroit for the first time this week, and I hope it's pleasant outside where you are too. Were you forwarded this email? If so, you can sign up here. —Jack

Today’s challenge: Check in on your breath.

Your in-person work meetings and social engagements, community groups and yoga classes, concerts, dates, movie nights, and dance parties, are all migrating online. Calendars, briefly in disarray, wiped clear through postponement and cancelation, are filling back up. The challenge of having too much time on your hands is becoming, once again, the challenge of having too little.

Perhaps this is on purpose. Perhaps it seems necessary to stay busy—to distract from crisis, and your anxieties about it. And while distraction can indeed be necessary, it only takes you so far. Too long ignored, emotional pressure builds, looking for release. Mental strain translates to physical strain, leads to injury. At this time, especially, it's helpful to connect with something you carry with you wherever you are—the gateway, in more ways than one, to your body: Your breath.

Reader Annie C shares this simple exercise: Count to four on the inhale. Count to four on the exhale. Do it for one, two, five or ten minutes. Even one minute can be enough to lower your heart rate, to momentarily observe your level of stress or anxiety. “In times of uncertainty,” Annie says, “breathing is one thing we can actually control”.

If you'd like to go deeper, consider meditation. Revisit it, if you've tried it in the past but it hasn't stuck. Many practices emphasize the breath as a means to cultivate awareness. Instead of banishing “bad” thoughts that arise, you notice them, gently, just enough to turn the pressure release valve, thereby sapping them of their power.

A first step may be to connect with a local meditation center, or someone in your life who already practices, to see if there’s a class or teacher they recommend. Many are moving their classes onto Skype or Zoom. If your calendar is already full, apps like Headspace and Insight Timer offer good introductions, and can be used on your own schedule. Try to think of it as a break from your calendar—a way of hitting pause—rather than another appointment.

Put on my tie in a taxi, short of breath, rushing to meditate. (Allen Ginsberg)