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Breathing Lessons

By Kathy Hendricks

“Breathe!” This prompt came from our choral director as we struggled to hold a sustained note. She went on to demonstrate what happens when you struggle to pump out the last bit of air in your now-depleted lungs. The note sours and goes flat and your face contorts into one of agony and desperation. Not a great look for a choir singing about the joys of Yuletide! She encouraged us to breathe before reaching this point and reminded us that the rest of the group would sustain the note in our brief absence.

I shared this gem at a talk on spiritual balance which I gave at a conference in Las Vegas recently (and, yes, the irony of the juxtaposition of topic and site is duly noted!) It provided an apt metaphor for those whose spiritual capacities were worn down by overload, exhaustion, perfectionism, or any other obstacle to inner well-being. We need to remember that we are not the only voice in the choir, I reminded them. This brought an audible reaction from the audience as they grasped the futility of bearing the weight of the world on their solitary shoulders.

I can think of lots of sustained notes in our lives – those times when we keep trying to sing despite the depletion of our inner resources. Grief is one. So, too, is an inflated sense of our own importance. Sad to say, some of the most breath-less people I have come across are those involved in serving others: ministers, medical professionals, caregivers, teachers, parents… Their generous nature can lead them to take on more responsibility than their hearts – and lungs - can bear. Knowing we are part of a huge choir of diverse, talented, and caring people allows us to let someone else keep on singing while we take a much-needed breath of fresh and restorative air.

Response by Barbara Anne Radtke

Kathy, how timely! September just sped by, leaving many folks, including myself, breathless. Sometime we need a reminder to breathe. Pointing out that others are carrying the melody – or continuing the task – as we slow down to take that breath is priceless.

While reading your entry, I recalled a time when someone needed to remind me to breathe. In my early 50s I had a medical condition that required frequent blood tests. The phlebotomist often had a hard time finding a vein. I was patient. Then, all of a sudden, in the course of my treatment, I began to faint when my blood was being drawn. When consulting the doctor, he brought me to the lab himself and asked for the head phlebotomist. He told her about my fainting and told me he was leaving me in good hands. I was shocked when she sat me down at someone else’s station and just stood near me. Wasn’t she going to draw the blood herself? Instead, in the middle of the draw, her gentle hand touched my shoulder. “Breathe in,” she said. “Breath out” followed. She established a pattern to my breathing by coaching me. After the blood draw, she said: “You just need to remember to breath. Next time we will be sure you have a coach until you can remember yourself.” As she smiled, I realized that I needed that life lesson for more than just a blood draw.


Your words have touched me in so many ways as I sometimes have to remind myself that I don't have to take on the world alone. I often say to myself, "Just Breathe!" and I even have a bracelet that says just that. Thank you my friend for sharing your wisdom once again.

Oct 06, 2023
Replying to

Sue, many thanks for your comment. We all need that reminder that we aren't the savior of humanity!

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