The other day I was out for a walk and was going to climb a long flight of railroad tie stairs built into the hillside. As I approached the stairs, a young boy (maybe 4 or 5 years old) and his mother had completed their journey to the top and were safely landing back at the base of the stairs.
As I approached them, the young boy looked up at me and declared, “There are a whole lot of steps right there!” I smiled and asked if he had any advice on how to get to the top. He paused for a moment, looked at me with wisdom in his eyes, and gave me the simplest wise advice I have heard in a long time. He said, “Take as many breaths as you need. When you get to the top, stop and look around. Then, when you’re ready, come back down.” I thanked him for his wise advice and said I would give it a try.
I reflected on his words as I took one step at a time, paying attention to my breathing and taking breaks as needed. Then, when I reached the top, I stopped, looked around, took in the amazing view, and expressed gratitude to God. Only when I noticed that all of me was ready to go back to the bottom did I start the journey down the steps. The young boy was absolutely right.
As I reflect on the wisdom of this young boy, several thoughts and insights rise to the surface. First, children are so wise! They keep it simple and have the ability to stay in the moment. Unfortunately, we seem to lose this as we age.
Second, in life, we should take as many breaths as we need, pause to look around when we reach our destination, and only leave that destination when we are fully ready. It’s a great formula.
Third, we are not meant to stay in one spot. Life is meant to be a journey that is fully noticed in the moment, not later via a photograph.
Fourth, breath is essential. Without it, we are not alive. Breathing doesn’t just determine our state of life or death; it is how we regulate our activation, fear, and excitement. It is critical for staying in the moment. Focusing on our breath gives us information about how we are doing and allows us to influence how we are doing. “Take a deep breath” is often the instruction to others who are challenged to calm themselves or are facing something scary or painful.
Another lesson from the stairs came from two middle-aged women who were climbing the steps together. As I approached them, I heard one of them say, “I think we are going too fast for us… we haven’t done this for a while, and we need some practice”. I love the “for us” part of that statement.
So often in this world, we get caught up in comparing our journey, and the speed of our journey, to others. We lose sight of what life-pace fits our current circumstances. We compare how much more, or how much faster, someone else is accomplishing things – or how they are responding to a shared stressful situation. We expect ourselves to perform as if we are well-trained and twenty years younger. In this, we fail to consider how our current circumstances require us to be different and have different expectations of ourselves and others. We forget to breathe, stop, and look around before moving to the next thing.
This holiday season, I ask you, are you breathing? Are you looking around? Are you noticing when your entire being is ready to do the next thing – not just when your racing, pushing, insecure, competitive mind is ready, but all of you – your body, your soul, and your spirit? Are you willing to embrace the gift of this pandemic and really work on strengthening your ability to stay in the moment, breathe deeply, and only move to the next thing when you have allowed yourself to take in all that this moment has to offer?
It’s not easy. But, when we pace ourselves and practice, again and again, we’ll reach the top of the stairs where a new view and new opportunities are waiting. That’s my wish for all of us this season…
– Kim Bushman, PhD, LP, Founder and Executive Director