Updated: May 1, 2020
It was a hot July day when I decided to use my gift certificate at Burke Williams three years ago. Once inside, the outside temperature became irrelevant. Spas like to keep the temperature crisp and cool enough for you to feel comfortable in a thick robe in the middle of summer.
I had a lot of shoulder pain and was hoping that the massage therapist could work a miracle. We decided to do a deep tissue massage on my back and neck – which was painful, but I didn’t mind if it meant some relief later.
My therapist kept encouraging me to take a deep yoga breath to breathe through the pain, and I wasn’t having it. “No, thanks,” I would say. I am good. I don’t need to take a deep breath, thank you. I am very happy with my small, shallow ones.
She finally convinced me to do it. I did my best attempt at a Yoga breath. I took one big breath and exhaled in less than a second. If you know anything about Yoga, you know that deep breaths are never quick.
She said, “that was it?”
I said, “Yes.”
And, then she said: “You don’t know how to receive love do you.”
If someone had told me that the scariest part of falling in love was letting someone love me in return, I would have told them that they were crazy.
And, I would have been wrong.
It turns out that learning to let someone love you for who you are when you aren’t even sure if you love yourself yet is hard. Accepting the miracle that someone sees you and loves you for you is WAY scarier than choosing to love someone. It is unfathomable and too good to be true – and what if it goes away? What if he changes his mind? Or worse, what if something happens and I lose him?
When James and I first started dating, I really struggled with this. This fear. This reality that in order to be fully loved I was going to have to remove all the armor I had spent a lifetime building. I was going to have to let him in.
I was going to have to stop breathing life in shallow gulps and start taking deep ones.
Breathe. It’s something that we don’t think much about. Our bodies do it naturally… breathing. I never realized how connected my body was to my heart until that day at Burke Williams when the message therapist said out loud the thing I was wrestling with emotionally.
How could she tell all that from a single breath?
We breathe without thinking. We walk and go through our day without paying much attention to our bodies, but our bodies are paying attention to us. They are holding every stress. Every worry. Every old wound. Our bodies hold the good things, too. Like new hope. Love. Doing work that fills us.
It’s written in our ligaments and our smile lines and the tension in our little toe.
The word ruach in Hebrew is often associated with the Holy Spirit of God. It’s a word that means “breath,” “wind” or “spirit.” It can be used to talk about a person’s emotional state, their spirit or just the physical act of breathing.
We say that God gave us the breath of life and ruach is the word that is used to describe it. When ruach is used to describe the Holy Spirit, it is Ruach Elohim.
Ruach, like the wind, like our breath, is used to describe an invisible force with great power behind it. That breath, that life, that power – stirs within. Active and yet peaceful, inviting us to drink more deeply of the life that is itching below the surface of things.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a stranger could tell the state of my heart because of how I breathe. We are built to inhale and exhale. Without the act of breathing, our bodies cannot live. Our spirit is equally dependent on God’s Holy Spirit for the breath of life.
And yet, I was settling for taking life in small gulps. My heart was anxious at the idea of letting James love me because I would have something out of my control that I could lose. I learned to survive off shallow breaths when I was built to breathe life in so much more deeply.
I wish I could tell you there was some sort of easy solution to learning to let someone love you. There is and there isn’t. After that Burke Williams massage that ripped me in two, I picked James up from the airport and I gave him my heart. Like physically… I had made him a heart out of little black stones on a wood canvas.
What I originally intended to be a sweet surprise when he came home became a symbol of a decision I made that day to choose love over fear.
I had to make a choice. It happened all at once, but it also took time. I had to learn to breathe more deeply. To relax and let the air flow in out and allow love to do the same. When I get overwhelmed or scared, I can still feel myself breathing life in short breaths again.
I have to remind myself to breathe… just breathe.