Making a New Anchor (or How to “Breathe” When You Can’t Breathe)


We have been sick. I mean, really, really, really sick. Respiratory stuff. In spades. For ¾ of us. Honestly, it’s been an incredibly difficult month. Well, if we’re being honest, the last couple of months have been difficult in all sorts of unexpected ways.

As a result of the illnesses, I haven’t been meditating regularly. I’ve either been trying to rest myself, or trying to make sure someone else in the family was resting (or getting meds/food/etc.). With all of the other upsets in life since early November, this has not proven to be good for me or my family. So I tried some mindful meditation this week. But here’s the thing—I couldn’t breathe.

Literally, breathing has been a struggle for me for a couple of weeks straight. My views on asthma have turned from “mildly-annoying-when-I-have-a-cold,” to, “oh-****-this-might-land-me-in-the-hospital.” Every breath has been rattley and raspy, and drawing air into my lungs has proven that while I might talk the talk about how important it is to think about your breathing…I had never truly understood that there are times when you can think of nothing else.

Breath. That’s my anchor for meditation. “Everyone breathes,” they all say, so make that your anchor. It’s so easy to go back to! Until, of course, it isn’t. Until every breath induces its own by-product of anxiety, and tosses you into an endless loop.

What do you do when your anchor is taken from you? When the one thing you depended upon to help calm you, to get you through the moment, is simply gone? Well, as in all things, I’ve learned that we have choices. I could choose to give up completely. To give in to the anxiety, to stop meditating, to view myself as someone who just can’t do that anymore. Or….

I can make a new anchor.

“Anchor.” It’s an interesting word. One of its principle meanings (according to Merriam-Webster’s) is: a reliable or principal support. It’s that thing that keeps you moored in place, that helps you know where you are. You lose your anchor, and you’re adrift in an unpredictable sea. There are, of course, always times in our lives when we need to drift for a while to figure out where we are. But to be without that anchor, to lose the ability to connect yourself to where you are…that’s a scary time. It’s anxiety-inducing. What can you do?

Make a new anchor.

I’m still in the process, but this is what I have so far. I was able to shift my anchor, ever-so-slightly, to gratitude. Unable to do a mindful sitting meditation, I decided to try some mindful moments (or “sips”) before bed last night. As I laid down to breathe, anxiety around the breath itself came up again. So I focused on the things I was thankful for in that moment—the warmth of the blanket on top of me; the sound of my husband sleeping next to me; the fact my children were sleeping soundly in the next room; that my house is dry and warm; that my belly was full. Focusing on these things, in that moment, which brought me comfort and joy, gave me the ability to calm myself and bring me out of the anxiety loop. Building a new anchor out of gratitude gave me a mooring again; it grounded me. And, unlike breathing, gratitude is a choice! Nothing can take that from me—no thing and nobody. There is always, always something I can feel thankful for in the moment, whether it’s a warm breeze on my face or simply that the sun rose again.

So, as we tumble forward from 2016 into 2017, I ask you this: What was your anchor in the past? What will your anchors be in the future? And what choices will you make to moor yourself and your family where you want to be?

Blessings to you all as we venture forth into a new year together!

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