Live Well Challenge: Breathing, it’s more fun than stressing!

I want to preface this post by saying that I’m feeling usually (openly) sentimental, and that I realize that what I’m about to write will undercut my typical image of aloofness and misanthropy, but so be it.

Last week’s Monday Message read: “This week, practice mindfulness to ease tension and bring you into the present moment. By practicing mindfulness, you can discover a place of stillness in your own mind and body, even in the midst of a stressful day.” I am not the first one to remark on how stressful the past few weeks have been for everyone. I feel like no matter how much I do, or, more realistically, don’t do, there’s always more and we never get a a chance to stop and take a breath. I go to sleep every night preparing mental to-do lists and I wake up planning every hour of my day, only to fall into bed cursing all the things I didn’t do and recalculating my schedule for the following day. The next thing I know it’s been a week and I haven’t seen my friends, cleaned my room, taken a shower, or sat down in days. What I’ve realized about this is twofold. Firstly, I am at the very bottom of my priority lists, and secondly, my mind is constantly looking ahead of where I am, and is hardly ever present. Right? Not very mindful.

I do a lot. I’m involved in a good many groups with varying levels of responsibility, and for a variety of reasons. The one thing I have really done just for myself for the last few years, though,  is be a part of the Barnard-Columbia Chorus. I’ve been singing for a long time, since I can remember, and I guess that gave me enough courage as a very timid first-year to walk into the first day of chorus in the fall of 2007, and I’ve been there every since. It’s been an incredible constant in my life. I sit in the same seat, with the same people, and just sing for a few hours twice a week, no matter what else is going on. Despite my political and intellectual ties to all of my other commitments, my participation in chorus is based purely on the fact that I love it. For reasons still unclear to me, though, I blacked out last semester and volunteered to be on the e-board of the chorus, and now it comes with all this responsibility that I really resent. And somewhere in there, I sort of lost sight of why I even go.

That is, until this past weekend. Our chamber choir sang at a church social at Corpus Christi on 121 st, and to warm up we huddled into a tiny room to sing through our pieces. Sitting in a circle in this small room, without a piano or even a tuning pipe, we just sang the hell out of those songs. I don’t know if it was the acoustics, or the proximity, or what, but we all just blended in a way that we really haven’t before, and there was this beautiful moment when I felt perfectly suspended in time, absorbed entirely by the music and an overwhelming sense of presence. Just for that moment everything sort of stopped, and felt perfectly in balance. We got up soon thereafter, performed our songs, were applauded, mingled, and then we all went home. But that seemed hardly to matter, because the real performance really happened right before, in that little room, just for us.

My chorus director often exclaims, “Singing! It’s more fun than breathing!” Frankly, I’m not too in to meditative breathing, which is the suggested method via which to reach this sort of mindful state of being described in the Monday Message. So it seemed appropriate when my choral director said that right after our warm-ups, because for me it had the same effect. In that moment I felt present, and truly rejuvenated, in a way that I don’t often feel, and like I really found a place of complete “stillness”. You don’t have to literally be still, or meditating, to practice mindfulness. In fact, it doesn’t really even have to matter what you do, so long as, if even just for a second, you reach this ephemeral moment of suspension when nothing matters except the way your voice blends in a five-part harmony in a small room in a church on 121st street. Or whatever. And you know what? It’s not that easy for everyone to just stop and relax, but when and if the opportunity arises, I sincerely hope you are able to appreciate it, because it did a world of good for me.

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