Morning Sun
  • TRUE STORIES: Something in the air

  • As the Labor Day weekend was ending Monday evening I found myself experiencing a foreboding. Something in the air — like when a barometric pressure drop tells you a disturbance is on the way.


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  • As the Labor Day weekend was ending Monday evening I found myself experiencing a foreboding. Something in the air — like when a barometric pressure drop tells you a disturbance is on the way.
    I swear there was a change in the way the light fell on the catalpa trees across the street on Tuesday. And the humidity, after the weekend’s rain and subsequent high temperatures, was so pervasive I felt like I was wearing damp long johns any time I went outside.
    Though we did end up getting more rain and high winds later in the week, that wasn’t, I discovered, the main source of my foreboding. My apprehension was repeatedly validated, as the week progressed, in a tempest of difficult emotions and general agitation that tested my spiritual metal, not to mention my social skills. (By Friday morning I was joking with people that I was just one blip away from going postal.)
    All this, even though I had a productive week at work, shared headlong laughter with students and friends, and relished warm intimate conversations with Linda.
    Thank God for a serendipitous reunion last weekend — at the Little Balkans Folklife Stage — with old friend and fellow seeker, Elaine Clugston, through whom I got reacquainted with Fr. Richard Rohr.
    Rohr, a Franciscan priest whose teaching is grounded in contemplation and radical compassion — particularly for the socially marginalized — is a man whose work I’ve read and admired for years.
    I’m especially drawn to Rohr’s belief that reality is grounded in paradox, which is  a statement that contradicts itself or a situation which seems to defy logic.
    Rohr asserts that paradox is the highest expression of spiritual reality, which is to say, life is not ‘either / or’ but ‘both / and’ — and full of incongruities. Just like my week.
    The difficulty is, of course, not running away from or bemoaning life’s difficulties, ie “I just want this to be over! I don’t want to feel these painful emotions.” but, instead, welcoming and holding the creative tension in living through paradox to get a little wisdom.
     Some days it boils down to one word — fear. It’s not that I don’t want to face the paradox, it’s that I’m overcome with the kind of fear that, if unchecked, can grow to the point where it feels like my skin has been scraped off from the inside, leading to darkness, despair, torment, and hopelessness — and the sense that my soul is shriveling.
    There’s a whole list of things I’ve learned to do to get me though it — a day a time: asking for help; praying; exercising; working; joking; singing; and deep breathing, to be specific.
    Not the least of which is deep breathing, which research continues to show is about the simplest and best way to reduce anxiety and calm oneself.
    Page 2 of 2 - There’s now a free smartphone and iPad download called breathe2relax that let’s you personalize breathing exercises. But you don’t need technology to breathe deeply — you just need to be mindful enough about your emotional state to pause yourself — or the people around you — and take some deep breaths.
    To be sure, it takes a certain kind of wisdom to do this. But wisdom isn’t always a factor of age. Sometimes it’s just the opposite.
    I was out on the PSU campus promoting the breathe2relax site last Friday when Ron Womble stopped tell me that, in Branson over the Labor Day weekend, his five-year-old grandson noticed things were getting a little stressed among the family members in a crowded restaurant and informed them it was time to do a breathing exercise that he’d learned in kindergarten using the image of filling a balloon.
    The story brought me a smile and a sigh … which, of course, calmed me down.
    It also brought to mind, later in the day, a funny example of paradox contained in an observance once made by Yogi Berra about a restaurant in New York, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net
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