# of literary mags submitted to: 2
# of agents queried: 0
writing progress made: wrote 7 pages of a new story
Apparently I breathe weirdly in my sleep. I don’t know how long I’ve been doing this, but it was first pointed out to me last year by my mother. She says that I seem to be holding my breath, or maybe letting out my breath for too long, making a strange humming noise. Then, suddenly, I’ll take a deep and jolting breath. Nikki says that sometimes she can hear me through the walls, gasping for air in my sleep. And lately I’ve noticed myself doing it. I’ll jolt awake, sucking in a huge breath and noticing that my chest feels tight.
It happened just this morning. GASP! And I was awake. I went out to the living room to meditate with Nikki. This is only day number two of my meditation practice, and I’m starting off easy – ten minutes a day. I know I could do longer, but I figure starting off small will help me stick with it. Right now I’m just establishing the routine. After a little while, I’ll increase to fifteen minutes, then to twenty.
This morning I was having trouble with my breathing. The whole thing about meditation is that you’re supposed to “focus on the breath.” But when I start noticing my breath, my breathing gets really weird and laborious. I feel like I’m working to push the air in and out of my lungs.
“Just breath normally, Eva,” I tried to tell myself, but suddenly breathing seemed really complicated. I found myself holding my breath. Then I let it out and and out and out for way too long until my belly was concave. I didn’t want to have to breathe in and start the process all over again. I ended up practically panting for air.
* * *
Breathing is kind of a big deal for me. I mean, I know it’s a big deal for everyone, but I’m the one around here who’s had two major lung surgeries.
When I was twenty-five and my lung collapsed for the second time, I had a surgery in which the doctors “stapled” closed a large hole in my lung. In order to get the lung to re-inflate, I had a tube the size of a garden hose inserted between my ribs to suck air out of my chest cavity. The negative pressure was supposed to cause my lung to re-inflate.
Except that it didn’t.
Every day I would get my morning chest x-ray, and every day the doctors would be frustrated that my lung wasn’t yet fully inflated.
Then a nurse would come in with a plastic cup of little blue Percaset pills.
“No thanks,” I always said. The Percasets made me feel strange and nauseated.
“Aren’t you in pain?” the nurses asked.
Well, yeah. I was in so much pain it hurt to move. I tried to lay absolutely still in my bed, holding my breath, or taking short, shallow breaths. I held my bladder for as long as possible because getting up to use the potty chair actually made me cry.
I’m not sure why I wouldn’t take the meds. Maybe because I thought it made sense that I was in pain. If there was a gaping hole in my side and I felt fine, wouldn’t that be creepy and unnatural?
One day the pulmonologist came to talk to me. “The nurses say you’re not taking your meds.”
“I don’t really like them,” I explained.
“You have to take them to help your muscles relax” he said. “When you’re in pain, your body is tense, and you don’t take deep breaths.”
“You need to take those deep breaths,” he said. “That’s what’s going to re-inflate your lung.”
So I started taking the little blue pills.
Today I talked to Nikki about my trouble breathing during meditation. “I think that when I’m sitting up straight, I’m tightening my ab muscles, and it’s making it harder for me to breathe.”
I told her about some of the different breathing methods I’d tried. Things I’d learned at an ashram in Virginia or at various yoga studios in DC.
Nikki said not to worry about any breathing techniques. Just try to breathe normally, she said, and if your breathing is weird, notice that.
When I woke up this morning with a gasp of air, there was a word at the top of my brain. It was spirit. Spirit comes from the Latin word spiritus, which means breath. In many cultures breathe is entwined with the idea of a soul, a spark, a human spirit.
And here I am breathing out, out, out, and then gasping desperately for air. Why am I holding my breath? Why am I letting it out for too long? Am I too tight and tense to breathe naturally?
I don’t know.
I will try my best, I suppose, to relax and let the the breath flow through me easily, in and out, in and out. I know it’s easier said than done, though. Until I get the hang of it, I will notice my weird breath and my great gasps at spirit, and I will wait for the day when I am fully inflated.
Sit somewhere quiet for 10 minutes, with your eyes open or closed, and just notice your breathing. Try to breathe normally!