Forgetting to Breathe
ARTWORK BY: MARISSA DERAYA
Yesterday, my coworkers and I played a round of basketball on our afternoon break. Actually, the four of us just took turns chucking the basketball from half court until we made it. So, it wasn’t the “traditional” way to play basketball, but sometimes I prefer the unconventional.
It was as silly fifteen-minute break from a day full of deadlines and “to do” lists. But dribbling that basketball reconnected me with my twelve-year-old self, the one that couldn’t breathe.
About fifteen years ago, I was one of the point guards on my junior high basketball team. We were pretty good, and I dare say I was one of the top players on that team. However, one factor continually slowed down my progress on the court. About halfway through the game, I would start to hyperventilate. My coach would pull me out, against my die-hard basketball will, and tell me to take a break. Honestly, it was kind of scary. I mean, I couldn’t breathe! And it didn’t make sense. We would run laps for hours in practice and my lungs never felt better. But as soon as I was 15 minutes into a game, I was gasping for air and useless on the court.
Frustrated that I couldn’t make it through a full four quarters, my coaches asked my parents to take me to a doctor. We wondered if I had respiratory issues and about a dozen other things than what the doctors told us. After examining me for a half hour, my doctor looked at me and said, “I think you get so focused that you forget to breathe. Let’s practice some breathing techniques”.
Forget to breathe? Is that even humanly possible? I didn’t think so either. But then I started to notice it ALL THE TIME. When I was taking a test, when I was up at bat in softball, when I tried to tell a story to my friends, when I couldn’t figure out the math problem, and on and on. I would be so concentrated that I would simply stop breathing.
I still forget to breathe sometimes. But instead of it being a physical breath, I forget to breathe in my calendar, in my emotions, in my relationships, and in my spiritual growth. I am always trying to achieve and make sure everything is perfect on the inside and the outside. Though this is a different form of holding my breath, the goal is still the same: “I have to win”.
What I didn’t realize fifteen years ago, is that the focus and pressure to win was actually crippling me. And the same is true today. I could start the first quarter; but could I finish the fourth quarter? I can start emotional and spiritual progress with such tenacity; but can I finish?
I am finding that in order to finish what I start, I have to have fun along the way. I have to be ruthless against my own perfectionism by celebrating when I make the shot, not just winning the game. I have to be creative in my ways to have fun. I have to be disciplined in the art of the unintentional. These are the things that keep me in the game in the long haul.
So, I am trying to embrace the breaths, the slow moving, playful, unintentional, and even wasteful moments to keep me fresh and in the game. That 15 minutes of basketball nonsense yesterday, you may call it silly; but I call it progress.
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Jen is a pastor, podcaster, worship leader, writer, and songwriter living in Napa, California.